Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Tyson Chandler opened this season as the backup right tackle, playing behind fifth-year senior Andrew Wallace. He saw action from scrimmage in eight plays during the season opener against Tennessee, bringing his career total up to 26 plays on the offensive line.
However, the 6-foot-6, 340-pounder was thrust into the starting lineup when regular left tackle Rob Crisp was hurt before the game at Connecticut, and he has started the past three games for NC State on the blind side.
There was no easing into first-team duty for Chandler - he was immediately tasked with trying to block UConn's Trevardo Williams, an All-Big East honoree who finished last year with 13 sacks and has tallied six through four games this year. Williams is one of the best defensive players that the Wolfpack will face this year, and Chandler got to see that up close and personal. However, facing some stellar competition right off the bat like that has made everything thing else seem easy to the native of North Plainfield, N.J.
"I think I've improved a lot this year, especially because I played against such a great player [in the first start]," Chandler said. "The next two games, I was able to calm down, listen to the snap count, see the call and see the people shift. The game got 100 times slower."
Chandler has gotten better each week as his experience grows, and he credits the seniors who surround him on the first-string front for their help. Everybody on the starting offensive line is a fourth or fifth-year senior, except for Chandler.
"It helps a lot, playing next to [fifth-year senior guards] R.J. Mattes or Zach Allen," he said. "It's just amazing to play next to them with as much experience and knowledge of the game as they have."
"He's gotten a lot better," head coach Tom O'Brien noted on his weekly radio show. "Certainly, it was a tough baptism going against Connecticut. He jumped right into the fire against them, but he's held his own the last couple of weeks.
"The good part of the front in Miami is those defensive ends, they get up the field and create havoc. He'll be challenged again this Saturday, that's for sure."
Chandler's improvements were evident on Saturday night in the Pack's 52-14 win over The Citadel. State rushed for 282 yards, the school's highest ground total since 2005, and the front paved the way for 515 yards of total offense.
"I think we did a good job against The Citadel," Chandler noted. "We prepared well, I got a lot better and the offensive line as a whole got a lot better. I'm playing next to a fifth-year senior, his level of play is already at a high standard, I'm just trying to get there."
Crisp, who will take Chandler's spot as the only non-senior starting up front when he returns from his injury, has also given the youngster a boost from the sidelines. The junior is a veteran of 27 games, and has been in Chandler's shoes as the new guy playing on the edge before.
"He talks to me everyday and throughout practice," Chandler said of Crisp, who is also his roommate. "He's amazing, and he's a good player."
Although Chandler said he feels comfortable on the blind side following three starts and over 200 plays from scrimmage, there's a chance that he could still be in the starting lineup, even if Crisp returns this weekend. Chandler may have to flip back to the right side if Andrew Wallace's injury suffered against The Citadel carries over into this week.
Regardless of how Thursday's injury report shakes out, Chandler is ready to start the ACC slate against Miami and serve in whatever role on whichever side is needed by his team this Saturday.
"We expect a good game, they have a good defensive line," he said. "I'm excited. ACC play is a lot of fun and that's what the season is about, we're here for an ACC Championship.
"We're prepared for the crowd to be against us. The first week against Tennessee, we practice with music to practice having loud noises during the snap count and that helped a lot. I think we're ready [for road games] because we've already played two games on the road, especially with the one at the Georgia Dome. The Georgia Dome was pretty loud. I didn't start and I didn't play as many plays as I have [in the last three games], but I did play some and it was pretty loud, especially on my first couple of plays."