Sports Illustrated (College, NC State)
February 27, 2020
The first day of football practice, whether its the spring or fall, is much too early for a coaching staff to make an accurate assessment of their players’ physical progress since the last time they were on the field together.
Especially since they won’t don pads and actually start hitting for another couple of days.
That’s why NC State’s Dave Doeren spent Thursday concentrating on the mental side of the Wolfpack’s offseason preparation during the first of the team’s 15 spring workouts.
“All the things we’ve been talking about with these guys, (it was good) to see them come out with the energy they had, encouraging each other, working hard,” Doeren said. “Wearing only helmets, there are only so many things you can do in the game of football without your pads on. But it was a good first day, a lot to build on.”
The Wolfpack coach said that before his team can learn how to play at a high level against hostile competition, especially the kind it faces every year in the difficult ACC Atlantic, it must first become accustomed to putting forth a winning effort on the practice field, in the weight room and in everything else it does.
“The biggest thing in the offseason was competing at an elite level, how hard are we going to compete against ourselves, against each other? Are we competing an an elite level?” Doeren said. “And then you’re talking about the individual improvements.
“You want to see the things they were doing at the end of the last season that we talked to them about being different when the get out there. Some of it is even confidence. Guys that were playing for the first time are now out there for the second time and it’s just a bit different.”
Doeren used sophomore running back Jordan Houston as an example.
“Last fall it was the first time (he) had been in our backfield,” he said. “Now he looks like he’s been out there for a long time. So you’re seeing that growth.”
Nowhere is that growth more necessary than on the defensive line, where a major rebuild is necessary after the graduation of seniors Larrell Murchison, James Smith-Williams and Deonte Holden, and the transfers of underclassmen Joseph Boletepeli and Jeffrey Gunter.
State picked up a veteran replacement last week with the addition of graduate transfer Daniel Joseph from Penn State. But he won’t actually join the team until this summer.
In the meantime, Doeren said he’s encouraged by the level of young talent he has on hand, some of which got at least a small taste of game action last season because of the rash of injuries that plagued the Wolfpack.
“All these guys were able to get reps one way or another throughout the season,” Doeren said. “Terrell Dawkins had a great offseason. We’re looking four him to step up and help us. Savion (Jackson) and Josh (Harris) were able to play in games and the C.J. Clark, it’s the first time he’s getting extended reps with us because of his injury last season.
“It’s good to get him out there. We’re going to need all four of those guys.”
Not only are there plenty of new names on the depth chart, there’s also a newcomer coaching them in Charlie Wiles — who spent the past 24 seasons building championship caliber defensive lines at ACC rival Virginia Tech.
He’s one of five new assistants on Doeren’s newly revamped staff.
The others are offensive coordinator Tim Beck, former State linebacker Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay (nickels), Joe DeForest (safeties), Brian Mitchell (cornerbacks). Tony Gibson has also been elevated from co-defensive coordinator to the sole man in charge.
While spring practice is an opportunity for the new coaches and their players to get to know one another and begin building relationships on the field, it’s also an opportunity for them to learn how to work with one another for the first time.
“Today is the first day I’ve gotten to see them work, so that was fun for me on the field,” Doeren said Thursday. “They had good chemistry.
“Three of those guys were together already on defense and Coach Wiles has been doing this a long time. Coach Beck has really good energy out there and is in charge of what’s going on. The quarterbacks are listening. It’s fun to see.
“You can’t get too excited on Day 1 because there’s not a lot going on from a contact standpoint. But the energy, the cohesion, the chemistry … all the things we worked on in the offseason, you could see it on the field.”