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August 12, 2010

Thurs. practice report: Secondary improving

After holding its first scrimmage of the preseason Monday night, the Pack will conduct another one Friday after a two-a-day Wednesday and a workout under the scorching heat in Raleigh Thursday afternoon.

Head coach Tom O'Brien said he is looking for more enthusiasm Friday since the scrimmage will be more like an actual game and officials will be present to flag penalties.

In the first scrimmage, the running backs received a healthy dose of work. There were 55 rushes compared to just 20 passes. NC State is looking to replace departed seniors Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene. Redshirt junior Curtis Underwood and sophomore James Washington are the top returning running backs, and freshmen Anthony Creecy and Mustafa Greene are also in the mix.

"We're still rotating guys in there," O'Brien said. "Nobody's grab it by the throat now and said, 'I'm the back.' Hopefully we'll just keep working at it."

Friday will also be another chance for redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson to regain some of the form he lost while playing exclusively baseball since the end of the 2009 football season.

"He has a long ways to go," O'Brien stated. "You just don't come back and pick it up and do it. We're about a third of the way through practice, so you still got two thirds of the way to go. So hopefully he'll be ready to do it by the time we finish."

O'Brien also said that one of the keys to Friday's scrimmage will be lining up correctly. Both lines have been aided by the addition of transfers. Junior college import Mikel Overgaard started preseason camp as the starter at right tackle.

"He looks fine," O'Brien noted. "He hasn't been [an offensive lineman]. He was, but he wasn't. He spent his time at the junior college at offensive lineman for the first time but it's a little different out here than it was out there. He would be the first to admit it."

Northeastern transfer David Akinniyi is battling for a starting job at defensive end. He could line up next to senior defensive tackle Natanu Mageo, himself a junior college transfer.

"There were definite holes on the lines, on both sides of the line," O'Brien said. "We couldn't have survived without junior college kids. We're lucky to have found the right kids to come in. Akinniyi was a big get for us. Mageo has done a nice job. Overgaard gives us some options on the offensive line. We couldn't have made it without JC transfers because of the depth when we got here."

***


Perhaps the biggest area of concern for NC State entering preseason camp was the secondary. The Pack's defensive backs were scorched at times last year, and although plenty of players return, there is just one scholarship DB on the roster that is not a sophomore or freshman, and that's redshirt junior Justin Byers.

Despite the youth, O'Brien has seen improvement.

"I think the guys that have played have shown they have some idea where they are going, and a couple of the freshmen, we're giving them an opportunity," O'Brien said. "They look pretty athletic. Now whether they are going to be able to help us, I don't know. Certainly the guys that played last year, if you put on a tape from last year to this time to now there would certainly be a difference to the level they are playing at right now."

One thing that is still a work in progress is leadership in the secondary, something O'Brien says should come in time.

"In the heat it's hard to have leaders," O'Brien said. "Everyone is grasping for air and thirsting for water. The best thing about today is we made it through the heat. The leadership will express itself the more comfortable they become knowing where they are going, what they are doing. I think right now make sure they are lined up right, make sure they are in the right position make sure they understand where they are going and what they are doing."





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