The Wolfpacker

May 2017 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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44 ■ THE WOLFPACKER ing penalty in the previous game. Morehead, who was second on special teams with seven tackles last season, intercepted a pass in the end zone against the Irish and added 13 tack- les and one pass broken up for the season on defense. Linebacker Unit Has Much-Needed Depth Senior linebacker Airius Moore played 799 snaps last season, almost entirely at weakside linebacker, and finished the season with 86 tackles, third highest on the team. Fifth-year senior Jerod Fernandez, in the middle, was on the field for 730 snaps and was second on the squad with 88 hits. The two combined for 25 out of a possible 26 starts on defense. The next nearest linebacker in playing time was junior Riley Nicholson, who made that other start when he played the weakside spot against Boston College and Moore moved to the middle, and finished the year with 100 snaps while battling nagging injuries that held him out of two games and cut short his one start. He finished with 12 tackles on the year. Nicholson is healthy now, and joined on the depth chart by redshirt junior Germaine Pratt, a converted safety who made the move to linebacker last summer and redshirted in the fall after shoulder surgery. Suddenly, Huxtable, the defensive coordinator who doubles as the linebackers coach, has some options work with at the position. Huxtable, who called Moore and Fernan- dez "warriors" for the amount of time they logged last year, semi-joked that it's been a while since he has seen this much depth at the position. "Riley Nicholson has really embraced the move to [middle] linebacker, and the game has just become slower for him," Huxtable noted. "He's feeling so much more confident. Germaine, coming to linebacker from the safety position, has worked so hard and had a really good spring." If the spring game was any indication, Huxtable is going to follow through on his promise to rotate linebackers in the fall. Pratt and Fernandez were the first on the field together, followed by Moore and Nicholson. Then Moore came out with Fernandez and Pratt worked with Nicholson. Health permitting, the defense will likely not be relying almost exclusively on just two linebackers in the fall. "I am very, very excited about the line- backer group," Huxtable said. Quarterback Ryan Finley In Control Of The Offense Throughout spring, head coach Dave Do- eren emphasized that both redshirt junior quarterbacks, Ryan Finley and Jalan McClen- don, will be needed in the fall for NC State. In the spring game, though, an apparent hand/ wrist injury to McClendon opened the door for Finley to command most of the attention. Although Finley's numbers were modest — completing 11 of 18 passes for 92 yards — he did not turn the ball over and showed his trademark comfort level in the offense. McClendon was 5-of-11 passing for 27 yards before being pulled out of the scrimmage with the injury. "Ryan Finley is really comfortable out there," Doeren said. "He was able to make some pretty consistent plays." One area where Finley has been striving to improve is his running game. He was credited with just 94 net yards on the ground last year and ceded the offense to McClendon at times to take advantage of McClendon's better run- ning abilities. "The biggest thing we talked about was better fundamentals in the run game and more consistency when they go outside the pocket with their decision making," Drinkwitz said. "We had a couple of turnovers there. We want them to play with great toughness. Those are our goals." Freshmen Get An Opportunity One of the most exciting aspects of spring is the chance to see newcomers get some of their first action. Among the redshirt freshmen on defense, Huxtable noted that linebacker Brock Miller has shown promise as he continues to get bigger and stronger, and he was particular effusive of safety Isaiah Stallings. "Isaiah Stallings … has really showed up this spring," Huxtable said. Defensive tackle Shug Frazier though may be best positioned to get early playing time. Frazier ran with the first string in the spring game due to senior starter B.J. Hill sitting out the scrimmage. Unofficially, Frazier had three tackles (one for loss). Offensively, redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Joe Sculthorpe (center), Harrison Gee (guard) and Justin Witt (tackle) were all on the second string. Wide receiver Dae- shawn Stephens also got into the action with a pair of receptions for 15 yards. Several early enrollees received a chance to perform for the first time in front of a crowd at Carter-Finley, which collectively raised $10,882 at the gate in contributions for the Kay Yow Cancer Foundation. Quar- terback Matthew McKay was the most vis- ible, completing 1 of 3 passes for six yards and ripping off a nice 12-yard run during the first half. McKay did fumble once, thanks to fellow early enrollee defensive end Xavier Lyas, who had two tackles for loss and a sack in addition to his forced fumble. Among the other spring enrollees, tight end Damien Darden caught an 11-yard pass and tackle Kollin Byers lined up with the third string at right tackle. Wide receiver An- toine Thompson sat out the scrimmage with a knee injury that forced him to miss his senior year at Plant City (Fla.) High. ■ Freshman quarterback Matthew McKay (center) is one of four spring enrollees that received ac- tion in the Kay Yow Spring Game. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN

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