Going into preseason just position-wise, what are the biggest position questions that you want answers for in preseason?
DAVE DOEREN: Well, backup quarterback, we know who our starter is this year, so Garrett Leatham and McClendon will compete for the backup position and just having to decide whether we need to red shirt JalAn or whether he's ready to be the 2. Whether you're winning or losing, that guy is one play away from being in there. We're going to have to get our second quarterback some valuable reps in the season and just want to make sure we're doing that with the right person. That would be one.
We're a very young football team. That's been documented and talked about, and so really the depth behind some of our key starters on the offensive line, probably. There's some positions where we have young players behind older players. So those would be the two.
On defense, in the secondary, we're pretty solid. At free safety and both corners spots, but our strong safety position there's going to be a new player at that spot probably. If Jarvis is full go, it gives us that option. We're still hoping to see that in fall camp, and if he's not then we're going to have a Tim Buckley or Josh Jones or Dravious Wright. So looking forward to seeing the competition that happens at those spots in fall camp.
Two-part question here. First of all, you're picked fifth in the conference so obviously somebody thinks you're going to win a conference game, so--
DAVE DOEREN: Thanks.
The guys yesterday were talking about the leadership of Jacoby and what he brings and how he can really spin the football.
DAVE DOEREN: Well, it starts with how you were blessed, and Jacoby is a gifted player. I mean, he was blessed with size and ability.
He's a driven player, which is how he was raised. I think he's a very determined young man, and he's one of those guys that shows up to work. He's very, very competitive. He's very hard on himself. He doesn't ask people to do things that he's not doing himself, and I think players respect that about him.
He wants to win, and it's personal. He's got to go do it. We've got to get players around him to help him and all those things, but he has the skill set and the intangibles that you look for when you recruit that position.
Talk about Jacoby being a reason you may have turned a corner?
DAVE DOEREN: Yeah. I think the championship teams and the winning teams I've been on, you have a quarterback that you look to and know that he can make the plays, that you're building around a guy that you're not trying to hide things and protect him from things. He can do whatever you want him to do.
I feel like we're close to being there with our quarterback. I don't want to put too much on him. I think he hasn't played a lot of college football. He was a great high school player, was a champion in two sports. He played as a true freshman on a good football team in the SEC. But his sophomore year he didn't play a lot, and last year he red shirted. We need to get him some valuable game experience. We need the players around him to play and play well, and I do see what Tony sees. He sees a great leader that can really throw the football at that spot
Look, NC State is the only school in the country that can say they have three players starting in the NFL at quarterback. Our players and our fans are used to seeing an NFL quarterback. We've been very spoiled and blessed both to have that kind of situation at quarterback, and they know that Jacoby is a talented guy. We didn't have that last year. We had great kids playing as hard as they could, but they weren't NFL guys.
I want to talk to you about a kid named Bra'Lon Cherry who is from my hometown. I wonder what kind of role he's getting this year?
DAVE DOEREN: Bra'Lon was coming on last year for us as a returner and then had a pretty severe hamstring injury later in the year. He graduated high school and had a pretty good swing the first spring on campus. This year he was a little bit up and down. If we can get Bra'Lon to just be consistent -- and he is a good football player. He doesn't say a lot, just shows up and works every day and could be a good contributor for us if he can stay healthy and be consistent.
As a coach, you have to project positive and you can't show any chink in the armor, but for a guy who had so much success before you arrived in Raleigh, to endure what you had to last year, how difficult was that for you personally and how long did it take you to kind of come out of it?
DAVE DOEREN: Well, I called it a dog year. It was one year equals seven years, it was one of those deals, and I've been through that before. It had been a while. Our first year coaching at the University of Kansas, we won one game, and we didn't lose gracefully. We got stomped. That was a long year, and last year was a long year. It's almost worse when you're in a bunch of games and losing because you know you're that close.
I think there's nothing I would do differently coming out of that season. I needed that. I think our players needed that. It's a reality check. It humbles you. It makes you tougher. It makes you grow together. It was not fun. I do not want to do it again, but I definitely know that we're a better team for it.
I don't believe anything other than obstacles are placed in front of people that can handle them, and they were placed in front of me for a reason last year, and I look forward to taking it on this year.
Statistically you were near the bottom in defense against the run.
DAVE DOEREN: We were, yeah.
You were in the middle running the football, but there were games where the feeling was that running was a problem. Do you feel like you'll be more consistent running the ball, and above all, improved in stopping the run?
DAVE DOEREN: Yeah, I think there's a lot of statistics, when you look at them game by game compared to just the final end, it's different than what you see. Offensively, we had a lot of injuries on our line of scrimmage that hurt our run game last year. I do believe that with a healthy Rob Crisp and a Joe Thuney at guard, our offensive line is a lot different. Last year, Joe Thuney played center guard and tackle in the first three weeks, and he played right tackle in one game, he played left tackle the rest of the season. Rob and Tyson are seniors that are 6'7", 300 pound-plus guys that can really help our offensive line in more ways than just playing tackle. It allows our best guard, I think one of the best guards in the ACC, Joe Thuney, to play where he should play.
Quinton Schooley started every game at center and we recruited a kid named Tony Adams that is very good and is competing. One of those two guys can slide to guard and compete with Alex Barr, I think we're more competitive and better than we were a year ago at that position, and that's the position that makes the world go round when you talk about scoring points. If our O-line can stay healthy and we can develop some youth, that would be key to our run game.
Defensively, a little bit of the same. We lost Cato-Bishop, who was our best defensive lineman against the run in the Clemson game. We lost Jarvis Byrd who was our best tackling safety and had to move. Donte who was our best corner, from corner to safety, those changes hurt our defensive structure quite a bit. We have great depth on our defensive line right now. I think that's going to help our football team a lot this year in the run game.
You talked a little bit about the quarterback position, but on the other side of it, Bryan Underwood and the rest of your receiving corps, what have you seen from them through the spring and heading into the fall?
DAVE DOEREN: Well, we played five true freshmen last year at receiver. Again, Rashard Smith was in and out with a knee injury, Underwood was out. He was our most explosive player and we lost him halfway through the year.
So I think Bryan grew a lot. Losing the game teaches you the importance of respecting the game while you're playing it, I think. And I know our young receivers are better now than they were 12 months ago. I'm excited about the growth we've had at that group. We need some guys to step up. We need Ramos and Valdes to play bigger, to play a lot more aggressive football than they did a year ago.
I think Bo Hines has really helped that group because he's not afraid of those guys and he'll run right past them.
We've recruited two other guys that-- Maurice Trowell from Southern Durham high school and Stephen Louis from Palm Beach Lakes High school that are going to be good receivers, too, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them play. There's good competition, and to me that's the biggest difference in NC State football right now compared to last year.
Last year there wasn't competition. There was just guys with nobody behind them to beat them out, and there wasn't a lot of pressure on them to be great at practice because they knew the guy behind them wasn't better than them. That does not exist anymore in our lineup. We have guys that can take jobs from people if you're lazy, and that will make us a better football team.
What are your thoughts on taking on Syracuse this season?
DAVE DOEREN: As opposed to anybody else or-- you know, excited to play Syracuse just like everyone else on the schedule. I mean, every game we play, we look at that team as our opponent that we have to beat. Like they're the most important team on the schedule at that particular week, and they're no different.
You've kind of touched on this there, it seemed at times last year like you were taking a pop gun into a machine gun fight in some of these games. How far away are you from the necessary talent to have the kind of team you want? You're obviously getting closer.
DAVE DOEREN: Yeah, I think we signed 31 players this year, 11 of them came in early, and we red shirted, I don't know, something like 15 or 16 guys last year, and we played 11 freshmen.
So there's 51 players that are some form of freshman, red shirt or true freshman and some sort of sophomore. In one more class -- we'll sign 20 to 25 in this class. You'll look at that and say there's 75 players that I recruited, and the guys that are seniors at that time that I didn't recruit will have been with me for three years, so they're like my guys.
I think it takes a couple recruiting classes to really feel good about the depth in your program. I think you can win earlier than that, don't get me wrong. But to have the competitive depth for your systems that you like to run, it takes you two to three years of recruiting to create that competitive edge that you want in your program.