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NC State Football: Wolfpack's 2021 Spring Preview

NC State Football: Wolfpack's 2021 Spring Preview

NC State Football: Wolfpack's 2021 Spring Preview

Last season, the NC State Wolfpack only had a handful of practices before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the rest of their spring session.

Despite the lack of practice time in the spring, head coach Dave Doeren's Wolfpack finished 8-4, capped off by a Gator Bowl loss to Kentucky.

While the season didn't end on a high note, there are several reasons for optimism for NC State entering the spring. For starters, the Wolfpack are set to return quarterback Devin Leary along with 17 other starters from a year ago.

So, what's next for the Wolfpack this spring? Let's take a look at some of the storylines in Raleigh as NC State hopes to contend in the ACC Atlantic Division this fall.

5 Storylines to Watch During NC State's Spring Practice

1. Devin Leary's return

NC State appeared to find its quarterback in Leary last season as he threw for 890 yards, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions in four games. A broken leg suffered in the win over Duke ended what had been a promising season, including two wins as the starter.

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Leary is expected to fully participate in the spring, which will give him a chance to absorb even more of offensive coordinator Tim Beck's playbook. With the experience gained last season, the Wolfpack hope that Leary will take a step forward in 2021 and help this offense reach its full potential.

2. Returning receivers

NC State got a huge boost when leading receiver Emeka Emezie (47 rec., 738 yds., 5 TDs) announced in January that he will pass on the NFL for one more to return as a "super senior," taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emezie and Thayer Thomas (42, 529, 6) will provide the offense with an experienced and potent 1-2 punch with Devin Carter and Porter Rooks also slated for larger roles after receiving significant playing time a year ago.

3. Dylan Parham's expanded role

After the departures of fellow tight ends Cary Angeline and Dylan Autenrieth, Parham is expected to be more involved in the passing game this season. Parham recorded just four catches for 52 yards last season, but NC State typically involves its tight ends in the game plan. Angeline tied for the team lead with six touchdown catches in 2020 among his 27 total receptions, which went for 412 yards. If he's ready, more looks should be coming Parham's way.

4. Defensive progress

NC State finished in the middle of the pack in the ACC last season in all four major defensive categories. On average, the Wolfpack surrendered 415 yards and 29 points per game. Those numbers must improve if NC State is going to be a threat in the Atlantic race this fall. Second-team AP All-American Alim McNeill is off to the NFL and will need to be replaced along the defensive line. Freshmen C.J. Clark and Joshua Harris will be counted on to take big steps forward in their second seasons.

5. Reshuffling the secondary

Injuries wrecked NC State's defensive backfield last season. Safeties Khalid Martin, Rakeim Ashford and Cayman Czesak all suffered season-ending injuries while captain Tanner Ingle missed five games because of a hamstring issue. Not surprisingly, the Wolfpack's pass defense suffered as a result, finishing 76th nationally at 241.1 yards per game allowed. Better health alone could lead to improvement in the back end and head coach Dave Doeren and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will use the spring to assess their options.

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.