Dave Doeren has released the depth chart for Saturday's season-opener against Louisiana Tech. The two-deep shows that much remains unsettled during the final week of practice before kickoff. If there is a surprise (euphemism for really, really scary thing), it is the presence of seven true freshmen* and four redshirt freshman on the two-deep; however, none of the freshmen are projected starters.
Doeren's unprecedented 12-man offense includes eight players that it would be fair to categorize as returning starters (even if one has not started at N. C. State). Those eight include Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas, who is still locked in a battle with Brandon Mitchell for the starting QB nod; linemen Rob Crisp, Duran Christophe, and Tyson Chandler; receivers Quintin Payton and Bryan Underwood; running back Tony Creecy; and tight end Asa Watson. Crisp, Christophe, and Watson are all seniors.
Another senior with a great deal of experience is Rashard Smith, who joins Payton and Underwood at the receiver spot. Charlie Hegedus and a pair of true freshmen, Marquez Valdes-Scandling and Bra'Lon Cherry, are the reserves at wide receiver. Another true freshman, Matt Dayes, will get snaps behind Creecy at running back.
New starters on the line include Joe Thuney (though he did start, and play well, last year against FSU) at right guard and Quinton Schooley at center. Schooley has come a long way from backup at Butler County Community College, and I am not scared to see him listed as a starter at all. Not one single bit. (*Crawls on hands and knees to bomb shelter*)
Former walk-on Tyler Purvis and former linebacker Ryan Cheek are still battling it out for the fullback spot, though one assumes that the fullback will be the first casualty if the officials notice there are 12 men on the field.
There are a pair of "OR" battles Deatheraging on defense as well, with sophomore Mike Rose trying to unseat returning senior starter Darryl Cato-Bishop at defensive end. Bishop is noticeably slimmer this year and has the experience advantage, but Rose is scary quick. Art Norman will rush from the opposite end; he is backed by Forrest West, who is all healed up after a broken leg a year ago.
Brandon Pittman and M.J. Salahuddin are still fighting to determine the starter at weakside linebacker. Former walk-on and special teams warrior Zach Gentry will man the middle, flanked by supplement-suspension casualty D.J. Green.
The interior line, a purported Pack strength, is anchored by returning starters T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal. A surprise on the line is that true freshman Monty Nelson, who is up 40 pounds from his reported weight at signing day, appears to be in line for playing time.
Despite its losses from a year ago, the secondary has a lot of experience at the corners in Dontae Johnson and Juston Burris. But four true or redshirt freshpeople are in competition for the two backup spots at corner. (Note to Dontae and Juston: DO NOT GET HURT PLEASE OK THANK YOU.)
There will be a pair of newcomers at the safety spots in Jarvis Byrd and Hakim Jones, though it is hard to think of Byrd as new. The redshirt senior has had is career interrupted by two major knee surgeries and now will get his chance at safety rather than corner, where he showed promise many moons ago as a true freshman. Jones had a pick last season but did not see many snaps behind seniors Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff.
In all, 10 defenders on the two-deep have started a game for the Pack in the past, and at least six have been a true, season-long starter for at least one campaign.
Wil Baumann and Niklas Sade return to handle punting and kicking duties, respectively. All-world long snapper Scott Thompson will anchor the special teams, and Smith should continue the Pack tradition of having a take-it-to-the-house threat in the return game.
If there are surprise omissions from the chart, it has to be Travares Copeland and Cameron Fordham. Copeland was granted a waiver to play right away after transferring from West Virginia and figured to at least make the two-deep, and Fordham, an LSU transfer, saw playing time in spurts a year ago. The emergence of the two true freshmen at receiver seems to have put Copeland off the radar, while the JUCO infusion from Schooley and massive Ali Kassem (6-7, 338) have rendered Fordham an observer.
Of course all eyes will be on who wins the "OR" at QB (my money is on Mitchell), but it will also be interesting to see how many true freshmen burn their redshirts Saturday, as burning redshirts is probably the best indicator of the overall health of the program. If you cannot afford to redshirt them, chances are you do not have much depth. And if you do not have much depth, you are not ready for #ncstateshit.
*Sean Paul is erroneously listed as a redshirt freshman on Pack Pride. He is a true freshman.