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March 9, 2010

Five potential breakout spring performers

Spring practice is the opportunity for players to emerge as potential impact players for the upcoming season. For these five players, the time is now. They have the chance to nail down starting roles at positions of need for NC State.

Defensive Tackle J.R. Sweezy

The redshirt junior finally found a home last season. He began his career at NC State as a defensive end and then experimented with a move to linebacker. He returned to the defensive line last fall as a defensive tackle and proved to be a revelation. As a reserve, he notched 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks - both totals ranked third on the team. With 2009 starters Alan-Michael Cash and Leroy Burgess gone, both defensive tackle spots are up for grabs. If Sweezy can improve off his redshirt sophomore campaign, he'll likely win a starting job.

Running Back Curtis Underwood, Jr.

Underwood returns after redshirting the 2009 season, which would have been his junior campaign. Underwood has 51 career rushes for 200 yards and a touchdown, and has added five receptions for 36 yards. The Pack chose to redshirt him rather than waste another year playing little behind Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene. With both Baker and Eugene gone, the running back depth chart is wide open. Underwood represents the most experienced option at tailback on the roster.

Offensive Lineman Andrew Wallace

Wallace, a redshirt sophomore, seems a logical choice to start somewhere on the offensive line. The question is where. He filled in for left tackle Jake Vermiglio against Maryland and performed admirably. He also saw time at guard and right tackle during the regular season. Right tackle Jeraill McCuller and left guard Julian Williams exhausted their eligibility after 2009, so there is an opening at both positions. At right guard, starter R.J. Mattes may not be ready by the start of the season after tearing his ACL Oct. 31 against Florida State. Wallace's versatility has the potential to be a huge asset for NC State while the Pack coaching staff tries to find its best starting five along the offensive line.

Center Camden Wentz

It's very difficult for a true freshman to see the field at center, but Wentz did just that in 2009. A training camp injury to redshirt junior Wayne Crawford opened the door for Wentz to grab the backup center job behind the now-departed Ted Larsen. Wentz impressed enough to stay second string at center throughout the season. He played the position for three years in high school, so Wentz is more familiar with center than his chief competition - Crawford, who played defensive tackle through his redshirt freshman campaign at NC State before moving to the offensive side of the ball.

Safety Earl Wolff

Wolff saw extensive playing time as a redshirt freshman last year, but like all rookies he had his growing pains. Wolff finished the year with a total of 42 tackles, an assist on one tackle for loss and a pair of pass breakups. State's top safety from last season, Clem Johnson, is gone, opening the door for Wolff to become a full-time starter in 2009. Defensive backs coach Mike Reed and defensive coordinator Mike Archer would love nothing more than for Wolff to nail down the job and solidify a position that has generally been a sore spot for the Pack's defense the past two seasons.


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