RALEIGH Saturday marks the first time since Nov. 19, 2016 that NC State has played at Carter-Finley Stadium with fans in the stands. The Kay Yow Spring Game marks the end of spring practice for the Wolfpack and an opportunity to show off the progress made during the offseason.This year is a unique one for Dave Doeren’s squad, with a bevy of returning starters and a team loaded with seniors. That includes starting quarterback Ryan Finley, three wide receivers and nearly the entire front seven from a team that won three of its last four games last season.With the Kay Yow Spring Game set to kick off at 1 p.m., here’s a look at what to watch for on Saturday.Defensive line expects to impressLast season, NC State’s defensive line made a name for itself in nearly every facet.Led by defensive end Bradley Chubb, the d-line wreaked havoc on quarterbacks with 27 of the team’s 36 sacks. On the ground, NC State ranked second overall in rushing defense just one total yard behind Boston College thanks, in large part, to 64.5 tackles for loss from the defensive line.The entire defensive line returns from last season along with seniors Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore still manning linebacker positions in the front seven. So what does Chubb expect from his position group on Saturday?”I feel like we need to be the best group on the field,” Chubb said. “We need to make the most plays and hold ourselves to a high standard.”While the line is still intact, there have been changes at the top. Ryan Nielsen, who coached the d-line since 2013, left for a position with the New Orleans Saints. Replacing Nielsen is Kevin Patrick, who has served as a defensive line coach at three different schools, most recently Texas Tech.The voice leading the group may have changed, but not the scheme.”It’s just the verbage and slight changes in the drills we do and stuff,” Chubb said. “Pretty much everything is the same, though, because we have the same scheme.”Chubb ranked in the top five in the ACC last season in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (21.5) while also forcing three fumbles tied for sixth in the conference. On a front seven loaded with talent and experience, Nyheim Hines isn’t opposed to saying the defensive line is the best group on the field especially if Chubb says so.”I don’t know what he’s saying to those defensive linemen, but they’re playing with their hair on fire,” Hines said. “So whatever he says, he’s definitely not lying about it.”Year No. 2 under DrinkwitzLeading into last year’s Kay Yow Spring Game, all the talk surrounding the offense centered around two things: Who would win the starting quarterback job and how would the offense look under new offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz.Well, the starting quarterback ended up being a player who wasn’t even on the roster at that point. As for the offensive system, it was still very much a work in progress during the Spring Game before Ryan Finley transferred from Boise State.”Oh man, I think we’re way more comfortable at this point,” Jaylen Samuels said. “Last year, it was all about buying in and adapting to a new system. I think this year’s Spring Game is going to be a lot more exciting offensively because we all know exactly what we’re doing.”While the offense struggled last year in ACC play averaging just 15.4 points in the five losses it went out with a bang. The 41 points scored against Vanderbilt marked the only time in 2016 the Commodores allowed more than 40 points in a game.Despite not scoring an offensive touchdown last season, Hines was a big part of Drinkwitz’s gameplan with 60 yards receiving or more in five games. After adapting to two different offensive systems in the last two years, Hines is excited about the continuity.”For people in my class, this is the first year where we’re coming back into a system we’ve already been in,” Hines said. “I’m really excited that this is the first year where I’ve just had to learn new wrinkles to the offense. Our reads are getting better and you can tell everybody on the offense has that year of experience.”We’re definitely playing faster because nothing’s new now.”Running game banged upDon’t expect to see the Wolfpack’s running game in full effect on Saturday. Injuries have ravaged the position this spring, with caution likely being applied by Doeren and his staff.When the latest depth chart was released, Reggie Gallaspy was listed as missing all or part of spring practice with injuries. On Thursday, Dakwa Nichols who was listed at the top of the depth chart was also banged up and isn’t expected to play on Saturday.In their place are two of the most athletic offensive players”Me and Nyheim are going to be switching out a lot since Reggie and Dakwa are down,” Samuels said. “I’m ready for the test. I’m just ready to go out there and play football … I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent.”It likely won’t be the core group Wolfpack fans will see coming out of the backfield in the fall, but Samuels is certainly expected to see an increased role in the running game. Moving to an H-back position, Samuels said he expects to carry the ball more this season.Aside from Samuels and Hines, players like Brady Bodine, Will Eason and former East Wake running back Damontay Rhem might also get some carries. But with so much talent in the passing game, don’t expect to see every trick in the bag from the Pack’s ground game.
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