Ryan Finley and the Wolfpack must replace some key players as they look to build off of last season's showing
The NC State Wolfpack will begin their spring practices on Feb. 25 as Dave Doeren enters his fifth season in Raleigh.
After finishing second in the ACC Atlantic Division and posting a 9-4 record overall in 2017, expectations are high for the Wolfpack as they figure to again be in contention for the division title. Despite losing a few key players to the NFL draft, there's still a lot of returning talent on this year's Wolfpack team.
5 Storylines to Watch During NC State's Spring Practice
1. How much can Ryan Finley improve?
Along with Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, Ryan Finley is expected to be one of the best quarterbacks not only in the ACC but in the nation next season. Finley decided to bypass the draft despite a career year, in which he threw for 3,518 yards and 17 touchdowns.
If NC State is going to dethrone Clemson in the Atlantic Division, the Wolfpack will need Finley to be even better in 2018. In last year's meeting against the Tigers, Finley threw for 308 yards, but he also tossed two interceptions in the 38-31 loss.
It also is essential for the Wolfpack to find out who will backup Finley as Jalan McClendon, the No. 2 at the position the past three years, transferred.
2. Is Reggie Gallaspy II ready to be the lead running back?
Nyheim Hines did an excellent job replacing Matthew Dayes last year, finishing fourth in the ACC with 1,112 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns. Now that Hines decided to enter the NFL draft a year early, Gallaspy (above, right) figures to get the first shot at being NC State’s workhorse.
Last season, Gallaspy finished with 506 and seven touchdowns on the ground, averaging 4.6 yards per carry (116 total). With both Hines and Jaylen Samuels gone, the Wolfpack will certainly need more production from Gallaspy this season.
3. Who will replace Will Richardson at left tackle?
Richardson, one of the best left tackles in the ACC, also decided to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft. This means the Wolfpack will have to find a replacement for the second-team All-ACC honoree, who was tasked with protecting Finley’s blind side.
The good news is NC State signed a couple of promising offensive linemen in their 2018 recruiting class — Jalynn Strickland (6-6, 295), a three-star prospect from Georgia, and Gabriel Gonzalez (6-4, 275), a three-star, in-state product from Mebane, North Carolina.
4. How will the Wolfpack replace Bradley Chubb?
There's no easy way for the Wolfpack to replace a talent as exceptional as Chubb, who was one of the best defensive players in the country last season and is projected by many to be a top-five pick in April’s draft.
The coaching staff put a heavy emphasis on restocking its defensive line in this latest recruiting class, including signing four defensive end prospects. The headliner is Derrick Eason (6-4, 240), a three-star early enrollee from Norfolk, Virginia. The reality is there is simply no way to replace a standout like Chubb, who who tied for second in the FBS with 25 tackles for a loss and also had 10 sacks, so expect NC State to focus on a collective approach and employ a rotation of different players to try and fill the void.
5. What freshman will shine during the spring?
NC State’s latest recruiting class, which checks in at No. 26 on 247Sports’ Composite Team Rankings features a total of six four-star prospects, including linebacker Payton Wilson and defensive tackle Alim McNeill. But the two incoming freshmen likely to turn heads this spring are running back Ricky Person Jr. and cornerback De'Von Graves.
The Wolfpack like to use a number of running backs in their backfield, and with two of the top three rushers from last season gone in Hines and Samuels, it presents an opportunity for Person to come in and carve out a role as a freshman. An in-state product from nearby Wake Forest, Person ran for 2,230 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior for Heritage High School.
Graves, who hails from Appomattox, Virginia, averaged more than 30 yards per catch and scored 14 touchdowns as a wide receiver last year. He was recruited as a cornerback, but don’t be surprised if the coaching staff gives him some opportunities with the offense in the spring.
— 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.