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April 13, 2010

O'Brien declares that Wilson will be back

The NC State quarterback situation got a little clarity Tuesday after practice.

NC State coach Tom O'Brien said he has no doubts that rising redshirt junior Russell Wilson will return to quarterback his team in the fall. Wilson is skipping spring football to concentrate on baseball for the Wolfpack.

"Russell's coming back," O'Brien said. "I don't know why there is any question. Everybody keeps asking. I said it again this week that he's coming back. Write it down, he's coming back. He's told me 100 times."

Wilson's absence has opened the door for redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Glennon to get extra reps this spring. He'll have a chance to shine during Kay Yow Spring Game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.

O'Brien wants to see the inexperienced Glennon make good decisions under duress. He knows that will separate Glennon from other average quarterbacks.

"I think his recognition, reading and putting the ball where it is supposed to be, the decision making process," O'Brien said. "He has the arm and he has the ability to throw the ball anywhere on the football field.

"Guys with arms like him, think they can throw it through anything, and they want to wait a little bit too long. He's got to anticipate the rush, and he's got to get rid of the ball sometimes. He can't take sacks and that's one thing we've been working hard with him on, especially when you get in the scoring zone."

The Wolfpack are also thin at running back this spring, and O'Brien believes the competition for the starting job will carry over to the fall. Redshirt junior Curtis Underwood, injured redshirt sophomore Brandon Barnes and sophomore James Washington - plus possibly some of the incoming freshman - will battle for the job during fall camp in August.

"Barnes now, with the [dislocated ankle] surgery, I'm not sure when he'll be back," O'Brien said. "It's going to be Underwood or Washington to start with. We'll have to find a third from one of the freshman coming in, but that is what we did this year. That is not unusual."

Underwood is the most experienced and is a bruiser between the tackles, and Washington is fast and a good receiver out of the backfield. O'Brien was glad that the team was able to redshirt Underwood last fall, so he'd have two full years of eligibility remaining in case Toney Baker went pro, which he did.

"[Underwood] has good power, he has good vision and he understands the system," O'Brien said. "Washington is a slasher, and he showed signs last year and by playing him, it's going to help him this year. We are working hard to get him up, especially in pass protection. That is the hardest thing they have to learn. They want to run with the football, but they have to keep the quarterback from getting killed first. That's the first job they have to do."

The offensive line will be another area of the team looking for answers in the spring game. The group will have just one returning starter, senior left tackle Jake Vermiglio, playing Saturday.

"I see a lot of confusion [with the young lineman]," O'Brien said. "That is what we see out of them right now. They are working hard. The only way they are going to keep learning is to keep repping, repping and repping, so it becomes second nature for them.

"They have ability. They are the wave of the future with [injured redshirt sophomore R.J.] Mattes, [redshirt sophomore Andrew] Wallace, [redshirt sophomore Zach] Allen, and those guys, and [sophomore center Camden] Wentz. We have a lot of good lineman in the program, but they have to grow up fast."

One area O'Brien knows what he has is wide receiver. Redshirt seniors Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis, senior Owen Spencer and junior T.J. Graham, all return, and have at least two years of experience under their belts

"Owen has used the time wisely," O'Brien said. "He's taken a leadership role out there, and he has really improved this spring, which you like to see that in a senior.

"Davis is getting an opportunity to do some things he hasn't done, and he's made some steps, but I think Owen has made bigger steps. I think Jarvis is just kind of treading water [because he has missed some practices because of class].

O'Brien simply said the defense needs to grow up and mature. He knows they took their lumps last year, and expected it because of so many inexperienced players in the back seven.

"It takes time and everybody matures at a different time," O'Brien said. "You just keep working them and hope the light turns on. It's not a real mystery. I'm not discouraged at all. I know there are enough good kids.

"A lot of those kids got thrown in the fire and got their brains beat out last year. I mean they did in some respects last year."

The return of redshirt senior middle linebacker Nate Irving from a broken leg will help settle down the linebacker corps, but O'Brien isn't sure how much the fans will get to see him in the spring game. Keeping him healthy and ready to perform in the fall is the No. 1 priority with Irving.

"Basically he's played half the scrimmages thus far," O'Brien said. "He's a different kid. He's much more enthusiastic and vocal out there than he ever was. He looks like he's grown up a lot. I think he's taken advantage of this opportunity that has been presented to him. Once he can get back in the strength and conditioning area, and get back to the level that he was, pre-accident. It will be exciting to watch him play this year."

O'Brien joked that his defensive stars at Boston College weren't so great when they were freshmen and sophomores. He sees the same pattern repeating in Raleigh.

"We played five freshmen in the secondary, and now four of them are sophomores and [sophomore cornerback Jarvis] Byrd won't make it back next year and probably has to be redshirt [due to a knee injury]," O'Brien said. "All those guys that played last year have to be much better this year for us to be a good defensive football team. The talent is there, it's just a question of will they learn and able to be mentally tough enough to do it."


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