NC State

Three storylines to follow for NC State’s training camp

NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the competition for quarterback

NC State football coach Dave Doeren talks with reporters about the competition for starting quarterback for the Wolfpack Wednesday, July 17, 2019.
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NC State football coach Dave Doeren talks with reporters about the competition for starting quarterback for the Wolfpack Wednesday, July 17, 2019.

After back-to-back 9-4 seasons, N.C. State has had a lot of turnover on the depth chart and on the coaching staff.

The Wolfpack needs seven new starters on offense and there are four new assistant coaches on Dave Doeren’s staff. The players report for camp on Thursday and begin practice on Friday. The 2019 season will open the same way the 2018 regular season ended: a home game with East Carolina.

Three storylines to follow during August camp as the Wolfpack prepares for the Aug. 31 opener with the Pirates:

1. Find a new quarterback(s)

N.C. State quarterback Matthew McKay (7) runs drills with fellow quarterbacks including Micah Leon (10) and Devin Leary (13) during the Wolfpack’s first day of spring practice Saturday, March 2, 2019. Ethan Hyman

Ryan Finley started for the past three years. He’s off to the NFL. His position coach, and offensive coordinator (Eli Drinkwitz) is off to Appalachian State.

It will be up to Doeren, new quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper and co-offensive coordinators Des Kitchings and George McDonald to determine who will replace Finley, who was first-team All-ACC last year.

Sophomore Matt McKay has the upperhand, after going through spring as the starter, but freshman Devin Leary and sophomore Bailey Hockman will have every opportunity to win the job in August, Doeren has said.

Every throw from practice and the scrimmages will be charted and tracked by the staff. They’ll use those numbers to make a decision on the starter.

Doeren hasn’t ruled out using more than one quarterback. He had to mix-and-match during his first season in 2013 and then used Jalan McClendon as a change-of-pacer runner in 2016.

Roper spent six years as an assistant at Duke, where David Cutcliffe has regularly used a two-quarterback system. McKay, who was Finley’s backup last year, is the best runner of the group.

2. Keep Ricky Person healthy

N.C. State running back Ricky Person (20) scores on a one-yard run during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. Ethan Hyman

Ricky Person, after taking the spring off, is rested and healthy. Staying that way has been a challenge for the talented running back from Wake Forest.

He missed most of August camp last year, and two of the first three games, with a hamstring injury.

It was no coincidence Person, who has an extra gear, was healthy for N.C. State’s two best wins last year. He had 108 yards (7.7 per carry) in a win over Virginia and 92 yards (5.4 per carry) in a win over Boston College.

But he banged up a hip in the loss at Clemson in late October and didn’t have another game with more than 5.0 yards per carry. He finished the season with 471 yards on 112 carries in nine games.

With a healthy Person, N.C. State could have a solid one-two punch with freshman speedster Bam Knight. The coaching staff is also bullish on the offseason work put in by Trent Pennix, who played four games but was able to redshirt last year under NCAA rules.

N.C. State has had a different 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past three seasons. A healthy Person gives them the best chance of pushing that streak to four years.

3. Defensive improvement

N.C. State safety Jarius Morehead (31) beats Marshall offensive lineman Alex Mollette (55) as he runs back an interception 57-yards for a touchdown during the Wolfpack’s 37-20 victory over Marshall at Joan C. Edwards Stadium at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Ethan Hyman

The last time N.C. State’s defense took the field, Texas A&M cranked out 401 rushing yards in a 52-13 rout in the Gator Bowl.

The defense was also bludgeoned by Syracuse in a key ACC loss in October and couldn’t get a stop late in a painful home loss to Wake Forest in November.

In all, the Wolfpack finished the season No. 108 in the country against the pass (261.1 yards per game) and No. 72 in turnovers forced (19). Both of those numbers will need to get better. Defensive coordinators Dave Huxtable and Tony Gibson, who was hired from West Virginia, will have an experienced group.

Seven starters are back, led by defensive end James Smith-Williams and safety Jarius Morehead. One key loss is All-ACC linebacker Germaine Pratt, who led the team with 104 tackles and ranked second in the ACC in tackles per game (9.4).