NC State released its depth chart for the season opener on Monday and finally unveiled the answer to the starting quarterback question. The storyline dominated the offseason for obvious reasons, but contrary to what that might lead you to believe, quarterback is probably less of a concern than the offensive line.
State is probably going to be just fine at quarterback. We have to make some assumptions, because we’ve seen little to none from all three players. But from what we have seen, McKay looks comfortable in the pocket, he’s accurate, generally makes good decisions, and has a dependable failsafe he can turn to with his speed and quickness. He also has a competent backup.
Having a dependable backup at as many positions as possible is invaluable. While State has been developing this at quarterback, it has lacked it on the offensive line over the past couple of years and looks like it is going to again this year. You can make a very legitimate argument that the Pack beats South Carolina in 2017 if Will Richardson was on the field, and that it beats Syracuse in 2018 if Justin Witt didn’t get hurt. Depth on the line, especially at tackle, has been an important yet largely undiscussed storyline over the last few years and it’s going to be in 2019 as well.
Offensive line is, unfortunately, one of the worst position groups to lack depth at because it’s an extremely injury-prone. Most teams can’t make it through the year without some linemen getting banged up. NC State didn’t even make it to the first game, as Tyrone Riley, who is a senior with at least some experience, is now out for the season. This comes only shortly after the news of Jalynn Strickland leaving the team.
Unless we completely misjudged the quarterbacks and they’re all actually really bad, this offense is likely to live and die with what the offensive line can bring. State is going to have dependable players to throw the ball, catch the ball, run the ball, and do tight end things. If the line can run block effectively and protect McKay/Hockman, this offense could actually end up being better than last year’s.
Whether or not the line can do that is a fair question to ask given the significant departures and the utter putridity of last year’s run-blocking. That said, the starting lineup is still a really exciting group. Joe Sculthorpe is really good and Witt and Fedd-Jackson will be rocks on the right side. There’s no reason to think McGirt can’t hold his own at tackle either. He’s enormously talented and it was injuries, not ability, that held him back. Those injuries though return us to the initial point. While there are legitimate questions on the starting line, there’s no reason it can’t be pretty good. The primary concern is lack of any experience on the second unit. There is no depth.
There is going to be an enormous amount of pressure on NC State to keep the offensive line healthy this year. Doeren has worked hard to build depth up front and he lost the two players that would have filled out the two-deep at tackle to pure, unfortunate happenstance (wish both those guys the best in their recoveries). Now those spots are filled by true freshmen. It’s not for lack of trying, but depth, particularly at tackle, is not looking like it’s going to be there in 2019. Everybody stay healthy now please.