Spring practice for NC State started last Friday, and following Tuesday's workout, with all pads on for the first time, Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien met with the media for an outdoor press conference.
O'Brien feels good about his team, which is coming off back-to-back bowl wins and have compiled a 17-9 record over the past two years. He has some concerns about depth at a few positions, but overall he thinks 2012 has the potential to be another successful year.
"I think last year the turnaround was big for the program," O'Brien noted, referring to State winning six of its last eight games after starting 2-3. "They got within one win of the season before when the team was ranked 25th in the country, to come from where they have.
"The whole key again is staying healthy. There are going to be some positions where we don't have a lot of depth and where we can't afford injuries next year. As long as we stay healthy then I think we're going to have a pretty good football team."
State opens Aug. 31 against Tennessee in Atlanta. The first four games will be against nonconference opponents before starting ACC play Sept. 20 at Miami.
"That's the way the Big 10 does it all the time, get their nonconference out of the way before going into their conference," O'Brien noted. "I don't know if we could ever get to that point, but that's a great way to start.
"Certainly the Tennessee game has had an impact on this team. When you look at a game like that with the profile that it is everything is a little more emphasis and a little more determination in everything they do knowing they have to play that game."
Other notes/tidbits from O'Brien's press conference
- Redshirt junior corner Jarvis Byrd and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Carlos Gray are the only players expected to miss the entire spring practice. Byrd is recovering from ACL surgery last preseason, while Gray is going what O'Brien termed "an academic situation."
"He just has to continue doing what he's been doing," O'Brien noted on Gray.
Redshirt sophomore running back Mustafa Greene, who missed last season due to a pair of foot surgeries, is practicing but will do so on a limited basis.
"The key with him is make sure he can wake up and go the next day," O'Brien stated.
Fifth-year senior linebacker Sterling Lucas, who missed last season with a knee injury, will be full-go in practice.
- Lucas is part of a linebacker corps that will be the biggest question mark on defense after the unexpected loss of two starters, Terrell Manning to the NFL and junior D.J. Green for taking a banned substance. Starter Audie Cole and reserve Dwayne Maddox both were seniors last season.
"We only have six, seven scholarship guys. It is what it is," O'Brien said. "Coach [Jon] Tenuta said he's got to find guys that can play. That's what he's working on."
Sophomore Rodman Noel was moved from safety to linebacker this spring, and redshirt freshman defensive end Mike Rose was moved from defensive end back to linebacker.
The only other noted position change was redshirt junior Rashard Smith going from cornerback to receiver.
"I believe that's where he's best suited for us and can best help us this year," O'Brien said about Smith.
- Receiver may be the offense's version of linebacker. State loses three of its top wide outs for the second year in a row.
"We're in a similar situation to where we were a year ago when we lost three guys," O'Brien noted. "We didn't know about Tobais [Palmer] and Bryan Underwood coming into the season. They showed flashes. They can be really good wide receivers.
"I think the key to that is going to be the freshmen, Maurice Morgan and Hakeem Flowers, to see if they can step up. They are very talented. It's just a question of them being experienced and getting confidence and making the plays."
- There were two new additions to the staff this offseason. Running backs coach Des Kitchings replaced Everett Sands, who left for South Carolina. Corey Edmond is in charge of strength and conditioning after Todd Rice left in December. Rice eventually took a job with Pittsburgh.
Both have already impressed O'Brien.
"I think [Kitchings is] doing a real nice job," O'Brien said. "I think he's got a lot of experience. It hink that he's got the respect of his players. Plus competition isn't hurting his job either. He's fresh, they're fresh to him, they've got to impress him if they want to play.
"I think Corey has really done a good job. This is his school. It's important to him. He's happy to be back home. It's a good change of pace for the team. The best I can say about the team is as they come out of the strength and conditioning area they're tired, they're dragging, but they're all smiling, so that's a good thing. I know that he's working them hard, a little more hands on than we've seen in the past, but the kids are reacting well to him."