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NC State’s offensive line transitions into a new era with good pieces in place

The line has promise but will look a lot different this year.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - North Carolina State v Texas A&M Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

NC State has done an excellent job of developing quality offensive linemen during Dave Doeren’s tenure, and it’s done that under the tutelage of a couple of OL coaches—Mike Uremovich and Dwayne Ledford—who left for promotions elsewhere. Heading into 2019, new offensive line coach John Garrison has plenty to live up to, though it helps that the common denominator—strength coach Dantonio Burnette—is still around to work his magic in the weight room.

Over the last couple seasons, NC State has been among the best of the best at protecting the quarterback. The Wolfpack ranked sixth in sack rate on pass plays in 2017 and fourth in that category last season. State surrendered a total of 24 sacks over those two seasons, less than one sack per game.

Considering the talent and experience lost off of last year’s group, it’s reasonable to wonder if that string of success will continue in 2019.

Production Lost

Player/Total 2018 GP 2018 GS Career GS Career GP
Player/Total 2018 GP 2018 GS Career GS Career GP
Garrett Bradbury (C) 13 13 48 39
Tyler Jones (LT) 13 13 50 45
Terronne Prescod (LG) 12 12 50 28
Kendall Brown** (OT) 6 1 6 1
TOT 44 39 154 113

(** Primarily a special teams contributor.)

The entire left side of the line must be replaced, and while that’s not a monumental task, the center position is a different story altogether. It would be unfair to expect the next starter to step in and do what Garrett Bradbury did last season, and nobody’s asking or expecting for the new guy to be that good immediately. Bradbury was a first-round NFL talent, and you can’t just plug somebody in and expect to replace that skill level.

But I wouldn’t expect the offensive line to fall off a cliff overnight—there is still a good amount of talent and experience on hand, particularly on the right side. And as good as NC State’s pass protection was last year, its run blocking left a lot to be desired. It is highly unlikely that the Wolfpack ground game could be worse than it was in 2018: 104th in marginal efficiency, 114th in explosiveness, 112th in stuff rate. State dropped from 44th in rushing S&P+ in 2017 to 66th last season.

Production Returning

Player/Total 2018 GP 2018 GS Career GP Career GS
Player/Total 2018 GP 2018 GS Career GP Career GS
Josh Fedd-Jackson (RG) 12 12 25 13
Justin Witt (RT) 12 11 17 12
Joe Sculthorpe (C/G) 13 2 26 3
Tyrone Riley (OT) 13 2 38 2
Emanuel McGirt (OT) 7 0 10 0
Bryson Speas** (OG) 13 0 13 0
TOT 70 27 129 30

(** Primarily a special teams contributor.)

Fedd-Jackson, Witt, Sculthorpe, and Riley give NC State a solid foundation; all of those guys are upperclassmen who’ve seen plenty of reps on the field. At least three of the four will be starters come week one.

There’s no question that this is a transition year up front, though. It’s not clear how deep this group will be, and the Pack would be well advised to avoid injuries to the aforementioned players. Injury setbacks would likely have a more significant negative impact on the performance of the line in 2019 with the lack of proven reserves.

The goals this year: make some improvements in run blocking while maintaining at least above-average pass protection. If they manage those two things, we won’t be looking at this unit as a liability.