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July 27, 2010

ACC Kickoff storylines

NC State will be starting its preseason camp Aug. 3, and already some storylines have began to form after the ACC Football Kickoff July 25-26 in Greensboro, N.C. Here are some of those storylines that will be worth watching.

The thin, inexperienced cornerback position

The biggest news that emerged from the ACC Kickoff was that projected starting corner Rashard Smith, a sophomore, will miss the 2010 season after undergoing surgery about two weeks ago to repair a knee cartilage injury. Head coach Tom O'Brien dubbed his procedure the "Toney Baker surgery" in reference to the knee injury the former Wolfpack running back suffered in 2007 and took two years and two surgeries to rehabilitate.

Smith was expected to team with redshirt sophomore C.J. Wilson as State's starting corners. Now Smith joins classmate Jarvis Byrd, who would have been among the top three corners this season with Smith and Wilson, on the sideline with a knee injury. Byrd tore his ACL in the season-finale against North Carolina last season and is not expected to be cleared until November, meaning it's unlikely he will play this year. Both Byrd and Smith are eligible to redshirt.

The Pack was already thin at corner after the offseason dismissal of one-time starting corner DeAndre Morgan. The likely candidates to take over at corner are redshirt junior Justin Byers, redshirt sophomore Gary Grant, redshirt freshman Dean Haynes and walk-ons Jordan Monk and Jesse Riley. Several freshmen, highlighted by David Amerson, may also get a look.



Who kicks off now?

Two recruits were announced as having withdrawn their applications to NC State. One was defensive back Peter Singer of Athens Drive High in Raleigh, N.C. Singer had off the field incidents that led to his family's decision to withdraw its application to NC State.

The other recruit was more surprising, and that was kicker Billy Bennett from San Diego, Cal. The former Boston College kicker was expected to enroll and have two years of eligibility left, and Bennett was being counted on to kick off. He had six touchbacks in two years at Boston College and averaged 62.7 yards per boot as a sophomore there on kickoffs.

That average was 4.5 yards more than what fifth-year senior kicker Josh Czajkowski did last year for State on kickoffs. In 65 boots, Czajkowski did not have a single touchback. NC State was the only team in the league not to have a touchback in 2009.

Kickoffs though could once again be an issue for NC State. NC State lost strong-legged redshirt freshman punter Chris Ward for off the field reasons. O'Brien announced Monday that Ward would be transferring to another school. That could mean that Czajkowski will once again be kicking off for NC State.



There is some optimism

The news was not all good on the injury front given the revelations that Smith will miss the year and redshirt sophomore lineman R.J. Mattes, a projected starter, is not expected to be ready until September and miss most if not all of preseason camp.

Still, O'Brien could not help but feel that State is at least better off than they have been in years past.

"It's something we know about now and we're still way ahead of where we were last year so we are looking for a normal year, maybe (laughs)," O'Brien joked. "Last year at this time, we had Nate Irving down, we had Jeff Rieskamp down for the year, we had two guys that didn't come back and one was a starting corner so we were four guys down last year. We're only down one this year going into camp so we're way ahead."

O'Brien sounded excited about having Rieskamp back in particular, calling him one of the team's best pass rushers. He also was very high on Northeastern transfer David Akinniyi, a fifth-year senior defensive end. The combination of Akinniyi and Rieskamp, who according to O'Brien feels as good as he has felt in years after missing last year with a sports hernia, should help State offset the loss of starters Willie Young and Shea McKeen.

O'Brien also feels very good about NC State's depth chart at quarterback, tight end, receiver and perhaps linebacker depending on the development of promising redshirt junior Audie Cole and redshirt sophomore Terrell Manning.


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