NC State coach Dave Doeren is looking for players to step up and a quarterback to emerge this month, and Saturday's scrimmage at Carter-Finley Stadium was a step in the right direction.
Doeren announced Friday that graduate senior Brandon Mitchell and redshirt junior Pete Thomas would be dueling for the starting quarterback spot for the chance to face Louisiana Tech on Aug. 31.
"I'm starting to see confidence with Brandon Mitchell and the offense," Doeren said. "That showed today. He showed a lot of emotion behind the offense and was encouraging people and demanding guys to play harder. You can't do that if you don't know what you are doing."
Mitchell graduated from Arkansas on June 28, and quickly made his way to Raleigh. Thomas transferred to NC State a year ago from Colorado State and took part in spring practices, giving him a potential edge in knowing the offense. Both quarterbacks are experiencing their third head coach on the college level.
Doeren said it is easier for the quarterbacks to showcase their leadership skills and command of what they are doing during a scrimmage when everyone can watch them perform.
Doeren pointed out he enjoyed watching the energy the players had on both sides of the ball, but the defense might be ahead of the offense at this point. The defense is also aided by having a pretty good handle on knowing what their teammates are trying to accomplish offensively.
"Defensively, we played pretty well today, and I know we tackled a lot better than we did in our scrimmage earlier in the week," Doeren said. "That side impressed me with that."
Doeren saw some encouraging signs from his younger players, particularly freshman tailback Matt Dayes. The Wolfpack will need two running backs to emerge behind redshirt junior starter Tony Creecy for the season opener in light of sophomore Shadrach Thornton having a one-game suspension.
"Some young guys made plays and Matt Dayes had a really nice touchdown run," Doeren said. "Matt has a chance to play early and he showed today that he can protect the football."
Dayes has a mature 5-foot-9, 213-pound frame, but also enough speed to get done what he needs to do in the open field. Rivals.com rated him a three-star prospect and No. 27 overall running back in the country coming out of Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay High.
"I think he's fast enough, but I wouldn't consider him a speed guy, but he isn't slow," Doeren said. "He has really good vision. His biggest attribute is how fast he accelerates. His high end speed might not be great, but his first 20 yards is pretty excellent."
The Wolfpack will need at the bare minimum some depth developed at running back, wide receiver and the secondary this season, giving some of the class of 2013 signees a tremendous opportunity to make an impact early in their college careers.
"I think for sure we will some freshman playing on both sides of the ball at the skill positions," said Doeren, who also pointed out that newcomers will be needed on special teams.
Doeren also saw areas that needed to improve before his team is ready to play Louisiana Tech. Mental mistakes were a bug-a-boo for the Wolfpack last year, and becoming mentally tougher is one of the prime objectives this fall, especially when the road games start to occur.
"I thought there were some drives that were started that got killed due to penalties," Doeren said. "That is a good learning for our guys to see on tape.
"We can't give up big plays and there was a couple of deep passes. One of them got called back because of a couple of offsides deal.
"The pre-snap stuff, I was disappointed with that. I saw a few drops that hurt us, but also saw some good catches. We are getting better in that aspect."
Doeren said the center-quarterback exchange will need to improve and was inconsistent during the scrimmage. The right guard position is also still up for grabs, which is the final key to settling the offensive line into a cohesive unit. Doeren was encouraged by how well the lineman has adjusted to the no-huddle offense, and several have dropped a lot of weight.
"I think we are close and by after next Saturday we'll have a pretty good feel for most positions," Doeren said. "[Alex Barr] has been inconsistent. He tries really hard and has gotten a lot better since the spring.
"There is still a decent battle going on between Barr and Ali Kassem. [Ali] just has to play longer. He is playing hard when he is in there, but he just has to sustain it."
Doeren said senior linebackers Zach Gentry and Robert Caldwell have had good starts to camp at middle linebacker, and sophomore M.J. Salahuddin is playing both middle linebacker and weakside linebacker. The Wolfpack could be fast and athletic at linebacker when the dust settles.
"D.J. [Green] had his best day yesterday, and he's trying to get back into football shape," Doeren said. "That was good to see for him."
Showing continued progress from the spring helps show that what the new staff is teaching is being learned. The goal is to get better each and every week, which sounds simplistic, but is a must for the Wolfpack to reach their goals of playing in a good bowl game and being in contention for the Atlantic Division championship.
"The spring game was so vanilla, but I think we are way ahead tackling-wise for the defense," Doeren said. "Last year, the first scrimmage, it was pathetic watching that. That part was good, and we had a good day yesterday."