On a hot Tuesday afternoon, NC State started their 2011 season with the first day of preseason camp. Head coach Tom O'Brien's top goal was to get through the practice without any problems with the heat, with temperatures in the upper-90's. With the exception of sophomore cornerback David Amerson, who left practice with heat-related issues, the Pack came out unscathed.
"I think the credit goes to Todd Rice and Phil Hedrick," O'Brien said, referring to State's strength and conditioning coordinator and head trainer respectively. "These kids are well-conditioned. I think they pushed through it. It's a much more mature team, and they understand what they have to do. That was the positive for today.
"We have to realize it's one day, we got 28 to go. We got 28 days to get better and 28 practices to get better. This was all about, camp's not a sprint, it's a marathon. It's all about grinding. Everybody had fresh legs today and they were all quick and everything else. We'll look to when get to days five, six, seven and eight to see how they are doing."
O'Brien anticipates that Amerson will be back at practice Thursday. Most of the focus Tuesday was on redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon. Glennon admitted that he felt like he had more eyes on him at practice, but O'Brien attributed that to the media's presence.
"I'm excited for him because I know that he's waited his turn," O'Brien said. "He's been patient, and he's worked very hard to understand the offense. We've talked all along, he certainly is a talented young guy, but once again he's just one of 11 that has to be out there. Ten guys got to rally around him and 11 guys got to do the job if we're going to be any good on offense."
The offense will be work in progress this preseason as the coaches try to maximize Glennon's talents.
"We're going to do what's best for Mike Glennon," O'Brien noted. "We are still ascertaining that. I'm sure that Dana's got some things, and I've looked, there are some things that we are going to try this preseason to see if he can do it or not. We have to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. The offense will reflect whatever those talents are."
The other top priority on offense will be getting Glennon on the same page as his relatively inexperienced receiving corps.
"That goes to route running and being where you are supposed to be, understanding when some things happen on defense, some things have to happen on offense," O'Brien stated. "That comes with experience.
"That's the great thing about college football. Guys get their opportunities when it's their time to play. They've been around. They've played the game. They've watched other guys get more snaps than them. Now it's their time to get more snaps and it's their time to perform."
Currently fifth-year senior Jay Smith and senior T.J. Graham are atop the organizational chart at receiver, and redshirt junior Tobais Palmer saw a lot of work in the three-receiver set Tuesday. O'Brien noted though the organizational chart is subject to almost certain changes.
"There hasn't been one that's ever been the same when we put the depth chart together when we get ready to play the first game in all my years of coaching," O'Brien said. "Everybody's got the opportunity. Certainly there are guys that have experience that probably have a little leg up on what they're doing, but nobody owns the jersey. North Carolina State owns the jersey and they have to earn it if they are going to play in the first game."
NC State elected fifth-year seniors J.R. Sweezy, a defensive tackle, and George Bryan, a tight end, as their team captains before the start of camp. They were chosen by their fellow teammates.
"That's what I think is good about the way we do captains," O'Brien said. "The coaches have nothing to do with them. I think it's a product of the fact, and we always wait until after summer conditioning, so they have to prove themselves, whoever is elected, through spring practice and certainly through the summer strength and conditioning program. Who are the guys that are leaders? Once again it comes down to that grinding part of the summer conditioning program. I think every year we have done a nice job of finding out who those guys are.
"I congratulated both of them, but the thing they have to do is they have to worry about playing their games. They are the captains, but it can't affect the way they play."
O'Brien complimented the maturity of his football team, noting that they have grown up over the past few years.
"A lot of guys were forced to play before their time," he said. "It was a detriment to us a few years ago because they were playing, but certainly as we talked would be good in the future. There are a lot of guys when you look out there, and probably the guys that looked like they made the most strides out there were a lot of the redshirt freshmen, guys who last year were a lot like the third group today, didn't know where to line up, didn't know what hand to put down.
"They lined up, they know where they are supposed to be. They've been through a spring practice. I think all of that adds to it. Certainly if you played for two years now there's a certain sense of confidence that you are not thinking about the call on the defense, you are thinking now about what you are supposed to do. You recognize what you are supposed to do, and you get a play faster, and that's the key. We have to play as fast as we can to be a good football team."
One of the top storylines of the preseason will also be the freshmen kickers, punter Wil Baumann and kicker Niklas Sade.
"They looked like those kids got pretty good legs, what we thought," O'Brien said. "I think they are very talented. Obviously it's probably a little tougher the first day out here kicking the ball one way or another, but as they become acclimated to this the test will still come the third of September when we got 60,000 screaming people there. We'll see which way the ball goes."