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The Wolfpacker pre-spring projected NC State depth chart: Offense

With spring practices starting Thursday, here is a pre-spring look at The Wolfpacker's projected fall depth chart for the offensive side of the football.

Quarterback — Starter: R-So. Devin Leary; Reserve: R-So. Bailey Hockman

NC State Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary throws a pass.
Leary went from third-string to starter during the 2019 season. (USA Today Sports)

NC State head coach Dave Doeren made clear in several interviews, including a one-on-one with The Wolfpacker, that the job is Leary's to lose to start the spring. The strong-armed Leary threw for 1,219 yards and eight touchdowns with five interceptions in eight games, including five starts, last fall. However, he also only completed 48.1 percent of his passes.

Leary had some positive moments late in the season that he will hope to build upon. He completed 24 of 44 passes for 243 yards and two scores against Louisville and was 19-of-31 passing for 227 yards and a score at Georgia Tech.

Hockman started two games a season ago, including NC State's last victory, a 16-10 home triumph over Syracuse. He was 54-of-97 passing (55.7 percent) for 546 yards and a touchdown but struggled with interceptions, throwing four and having several more near-picks.

Two more quarterbacks will look to make an impression this spring, with redshirt freshman Ty Evans having a more likely opportunity. Evans is a former Gatorade Player of the Year in Colorado and Elite 11 quarterback who won two state titles at Palmer Ridge High near Colorado Springs.

Early enrollee Ben Finley, a three-star prospect from Paradise Valley High in Phoenix and the younger brother for former NC State quarterback Ryan Finley, will likely spend the spring getting used to college football practices and the Wolfpack's offense.

Running back — Starter: So. Zonovan Knight; Reserves: Jr. Ricky Person Jr. and So. Jordan Houston

NC State Wolfpack football running back Zonovan Knight runs against Clemson.
Knight ran for a team-high 745 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. (Associated Press)

Knight led NC State in rushing in seven out of 12 games a season ago and finished with team-highs of 136 carries for 745 yards and five ground touchdowns. That included a 53-yard scoring run against national runner-up Clemson. With improved ball-security and receiving skills, Knight could establish himself in the upper echelon of ACC running backs this fall.

NC State also has nice depth here. Houston paced the Pack in rushing in the other five games and finished with 101 carries for 526 yards and two touchdowns, giving NC State a highly promising rookie duo in 2019. Houston also caught 15 passes for 112 yards and could be a candidate to help return kickoffs this fall.

Then there is Person, the former Rivals100 running back who has battled injuries for two seasons. When healthy in 2018, the rookie proved he was probably worthy of his lofty blue-chip recruit status, running for 471 yards and 112 carries and two scores in nine games. He did not have the encore he was hoping for when he rushed 61 times for 229 yards and three touchdowns a year ago in seven games.

Person has missed nine contests over the past two seasons with injuries.

Not listed above but likely to be in the mix on the depth chart is redshirt sophomore Trent Pennix, who ran 13 times for 55 yards and caught seven passes for 80 yards and a score a season ago.

Wide Receiver — Starters: Sr. Emeka Emezie, R-So. Devin Carter and R-Jr. Thayer Thomas; Reserves: R-Sr. C.J. Riley, R-So. Jasiah Provillon and So. Keyon Lesane

NC State Wolfpack football receiver Emeka Emezie catches a pass.
Emezie caught 56 passes for 576 yards and two scores in 2019. (Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker)

Things did not go according to plan with the receivers a season ago, and it started in the opener when Riley went down with a torn ACL. Riley is NC State's most physically gifted wideout and caught 28 passes for 315 yards and two scores in 2018. He earned a starting opportunity last fall, but recovering from a second ACL injury drops him to reserve status in 2020 for now. He will miss the spring while continuing to rehab.

Emezie was expected to be the go-to receiver in 2019, but his numbers were not much different from the year before. In 2018, Emezie caught 53 passes for 616 yards and five TDs. Last year he had 56 receptions for 576 yards and two touchdowns.

In Riley's place, Carter flashed as a rookie with 32 receptions for 456 yards, but he did not reach the end zone. He did have one of just two 100-yard receiving games for NC State in 2019 with six catches for 140 yards in a loss at Boston College.

In the slot, Thomas returns after making 31 receptions for 334 yards and three scores while battling nagging injuries. Like Emezie, his numbers were not an improvement over his 2018 campaign, when Thomas hauled in 34 receptions for 383 yards and three scores.

Backing up Thomas in the slot will likely be Lesane, who caught 13 passes for 93 yards and rushed five times for 60 yards in his rookie season.

One of the big questions for the receivers will be depth, especially with Riley coming back from injury. Provillon (two catches for 58 yards) and redshirt junior Max Fisher (three catches for 46 yards) did not prove much in 2019. That leaves an opening for four-star early enrollee Porter Rooks to quickly climb the depth chart.

Tight End — Starter: R-Sr. Cary Angeline; Reserve — R-Sr. Dylan Autenrieth

NC State Wolfpack football tight end Cary Angeline catches a touchdown.
Angeline led NC State with five touchdown receptions in 2019. (USA Today images)

Injuries really hit the tight end position hard in 2019, leaving Angeline as the only healthy, available scholarship player there by the end of the year. Angeline had solid numbers of 25 receptions for 379 yards and a team-best five touchdowns.

NC State though missed Autenrieth, who is considered the team's best blocking tight end but only played three games before being lost for the season. Autenrieth is also a valuable leader who was voted team captain in the preseason. He had three receptions for 40 yards prior to getting hurt. Autenrieth will not participate in spring practices.

Fifth-year senior Dylan Parham also missed most of the season with an injury. Redshirt freshman Kameron Walker is added to the mix this spring.

Offensive line — Starters (left to right on line): So. Ikem Ekwonu, R-Sr. Joe Sculthorpe, R-Jr. Grant Gibson, R-Fr. Dylan McMahon, R-Sr. Justin Witt; Reserves (left to right): R-Sr. Tyrone Riley, R-Fr. Timothy McKay, R-Jr. Liam Ryan, R-Jr. Bryson Speas, R-So. Derrick Eason

NC State Wolfpack football offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) stretches.
Ekwonu (79) has the makings of a future star at left tackle. (Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker)

This will be a very interesting position group to see how it shakes out.

It appears a given that Ekwonu, who was a freshman All-American by PFF, will start at left tackle after his breakthrough campaign. Ekwonu started seven games a season ago, and according to PFF was NC State's best player on offense. Also a good bet to start are Sculthorpe and Gibson. Both started every game they played in 2019, with Sculthorpe missing one contest via suspension.

The one game that Sculthorpe missed, McMahon got the start (and it came against Clemson, of all teams). Offensive line coach John Garrison praised McMahon in an interview with The Wolfpacker, and thus we are going with a bit of a bold prediction in having McMahon first string on the interior.

Witt has started 17 games at right tackle, but he missed the final seven contests of last season with an injury and will still be out in the spring. Speas got most of the starts in his absence, but he could also be in the mix to battle for a starting job at guard.

NC State is also expecting Riley back after he missed all of last season with a foot injury. Like Witt, he will be held out in the spring. Riley had been expected to start at left tackle before he was injured, and he could push Witt at right tackle this fall.

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