RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina State is down to its final days of preparation for coach Dave Doeren’s first game with the Wolfpack. He’s eager to find out how his players handle running their new schemes under game pressure this weekend.
“Some guys play a lot better in those situations and other guys don’t,” Doeren said Monday, adding that Saturday’s opener against Louisiana Tech will give coaches the first chance “to really see those pieces and how they interact.”
Doeren, who left Northern Illinois to replace fired coach Tom O’Brien, spent training camp pushing the players to learn more of the offensive and defensive schemes installed during spring practices. While he said he’s excited about how much his players have learned so far, he won’t know for sure how much they’ve really processed until they take the field for the first time.
It’s why Doeren said there’s “a lot of answered questions about our personnel” as his team starts the week. Some of that comes from the team’s lack of experience with the no-huddle offense, for example, while some comes from the fact he knows the Wolfpack will be a young team prone to some growing pains.
Seven freshmen appear on the team’s two-deep depth chart, including a pair of receivers in Bra’Lon Cherry and Marques Valdes-Scantling. Three redshirt freshmen also appear, though none of those 10 players are listed as starters.
The biggest question still hovering over the Wolfpack is still whether Arkansas graduate transfer Brandon Mitchell or Colorado State junior transfer Pete Thomas will start at quarterback.
The school said last week that Doeren wouldn’t reveal a starting quarterback until the day of the opener. Doeren said both players would have a good idea of their roles ahead of time and didn’t rule out using both Mitchell and Thomas on Saturday.
“We’ve talked a lot with all the quarterbacks just kind of where they stand and what they need to work on,” Doeren said. “There isn’t a magical rep count that we’ve talked about with those guys, about a first play or anything like that yet. But by the end of practice Wednesday, I think there will be a real firm grasp on those guys’ parts.”
N.C. State started spring drills with Thomas and sophomore Manny Stocker taking reps at quarterback, then added two freshmen and Mitchell for preseason camp.
With Mitchell and Thomas battling for the job, Doeren felt comfortable enough with his depth at the position to move freshman Bryant Shirreffs to fullback after losing Logan Winkles to a preseason knee injury.
N.C. State is going with a no-huddle offense that Doeren has said blends elements from Wisconsin – where Doeren had worked as an assistant before taking over at NIU – and Oregon. It was a work-in-progress during a sloppy spring game, and Saturday’s opener will mark the first chance to see how much progress that unit has made in the workouts since.
The changes on defense haven’t been quite as dramatic, though the coaches are constantly pushing both sides of the ball to work at a faster tempo.
“I feel like it’s good chemistry and we have a pretty good idea of what each of us is capable of doing,” senior linebacker D.J. Green said. “So we’re pretty excited about getting out here Saturday and just letting it all out.”
Also Monday, Doeren said reserve defensive tackle A.J. Ferguson is “out of the lineup” for two weeks due to what he described only as “university policy.”