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Some things to watch as NC State opens fall camp

Praise be, football is back.

North Carolina State v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

It’s beginning to look a lot like football. NC State gets its fall camp underway today as it begins preparations for the 2021 season and the opener against USF, which is less than a month from now. There’s something about reaching this point that makes football feel a lot closer than it did a week ago.

With the vast majority of its starters back, NC State faces fewer preseason questions than it would typically, but there are still key competitions to sort out and depth to build behind the Pack’s veteran leaders.

Among the things I’m watching:

1.) How does the offensive line shake out?

We know that Ickey Ekwonu and Grant Gibson will be starting at left tackle and center, respectively. Both have lots of experience and are among the most talented linemen in the league. The other three spots are less certain.

State returns experience in Tyrone Riley, Bryson Speas, Derrick Eason, and Timothy McKay; the program also added graduate transfer Chandler Zavala, who may slot immediately into a guard spot.

The health of Riley and McKay may determine the overall strength of the unit this season, as both have missed a lot of time because of injury. Riley missed all of 2019 with a foot injury and was lost for the season after getting hurt against Duke in 2020. McKay was lost for the year against Pitt. Are they all the way back?

2.) Who steps up at defensive tackle?

Corey Durden is another potential impact transfer, while the Pack got reps in 2020 from Josh Harris, CJ Clark, and Davin Vann. There is no shortage of talent and pedigree here—these guys were all well-regarded recruits—but they are on the young side.

The competition for the starting spot at nose tackle should be healthy, and we’re likely to see a bit more rotating this fall than we did in 2020, when McNeill rightfully hogged the majority of the snaps.

3.) How will NC State choose to replace Cary Angeline at tight end?

There are different approaches the Pack could take at tight end given that no one is likely equal to Angeline in terms of pass-catching ability. But maybe State doesn’t need that as much as it needs better blocking out of the position. That should improve regardless, because let’s be honest, that was not among Angeline’s strengths.

Is Dylan Parham the best of both worlds for this NC State team, or is there an unheralded guy in the freshman class who will prove worthy of first-team snaps?