NC State fans cringed every time an injury report came out last season, and the bug is already hitting the Pack in 2008.
"We've had two surgeries here in the last couple of days," head coach Tom O'Brien noted following practice. "Toney Baker has had surgery to clear out some things in his knee so he's on the shelf for a while until he comes back from that, and Clem Johnson broke his jaw in the scrimmage, so he's out for maybe the year."
All injuries hurt, but Johnson's in particular stings. The junior transferred in from Valley Forge Community College in Wayne, Pa., and he had performed well enough to be a likely starter for the Pack at the boundary safety according to O'Brien.
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"We brought him in here for a purpose," O'Brien said. "The way he was playing, he would have been the starter at safety for us. That's the way he was going. It's a big loss for us right now."
O'Brien believes that Johnson still has a redshirt year that should allow him to have two years of eligibility left in case he does not play this year.
"The thing with the jaw is you don't want to eat and you lose all that weight," O'Brien said. "All that problem with trying to get substance in him. He'll start all over once it heals, which is a lengthy process anyways."
Baker's injury is the latest setback for the redshirt junior running back. Baker had season-ending knee surgery after sustaining an injury during the Pack's season opener against Central Florida last year. Baker was cleared to return in the summer, but he had been held out of the first two scrimmages.
Baker has 1,272 career rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
The other main news coming from practice Tuesday was that the quarterback race for the starting position has narrowed from five to three. The writing was on the wall when redshirt junior Harrison Beck and redshirt sophomore Justin Burke did not participate in the second scrimmage Sunday night.
Freshman Mike Glennon completed 13 of 25 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown but also had three interceptions in that scrimmage. Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson was 5-of-14 passing for 60 yards and a pick. Fifth-year senior and returning starter Daniel Evans completed 6 of his 8 attempts for 89 yards and a score.
"We're going to go with the same three guys," O'Brien said. "It's down to those three and we are going to give them the work Friday night and see where it goes on Saturday.
"I don't have anything to say about them individually. The idea is to try to find the guy that we think we can win with. We've made that decision that those three guys all have something that we like about them, and it's how they are going to perform in these next two scrimmages."
O'Brien continues to sing the praises of the two defensive linemen who moved to the offensive line in the spring – fifth year senior John Bedics and redshirt junior Ted Larsen. Bedics is battling sophomore Jake Vermiglio for the starting left guard spot while Larsen may be in line to start at center.
"I think they've done a great job," O'Brien said. "They've added toughness to the line, they've added athletic ability. They are still learning each and every day. They are not perfect in any way, shape or form, but they are giving us depth that we wouldn't have had. It we didn't have those guys over there we would've had very little depth at all. They've added a lot in that department."
Expectations are high for redshirt sophomore linebacker Nate Irving. He is by far NC State's most experienced linebacker returning, making four starts in 2008 and totaling 52 tackles, including seven for losses and a sack, while forcing a pair of fumbles, breaking up two passes and pressuring the quarterback three times.
Despite being the heavy favorite to start at the weakside linebacker spot, Irving is taking nothing for granted.
"My approach is to take every practice one session at a time and give it my all, leave nothing on the field.," Irving said. "I've done good so far, but there is always room for improvement.
"My responsibility is to do whatever the coaches ask me to do and help the younger linebackers along."
Irving said that at the weakside spot, his primary job is to help out on the run more while his counterpart at the strongside has to play a larger role in the passing game. However he feels confident he could play at any linebacker spot.
"It doesn't really matter to me, whatever the coaches feel I can be best at and they need me at, I'll play," he said.
Irving knows he is the leader of the linebackers based on experience. He also understands that the linebacker corps has been the most questioned unit on the defensive side of the ball after losing three starting seniors from last year.
"I think the linebackers are doing really good," he said. "We have some young players stepping up, feeling in some shoes, and the starters, they're playing real well."
"I see him working hard, not laying off," Irving said. "It's just not going to be given to you, you have to go out there and work, and that's what they are doing. They're working hard.
"All of them stand out just being so young and to work as hard as they do, they stand out. I think it's real important that we have some players get some experience just in case something happens and someone has to step up."