RALEIGH — A lot has been made this offseason about the number of key players the NC State football team has lost because of graduation and early entry into the NFL Draft.
It’s a legitimate concern, considering that coach Dave Doeren and his staff will have to replace their entire starting defensive line, their top rusher, all-time leading receiver, two-thirds of their linebacking corps and the right side of their offensive line.
And yet, despite all the holes that need to be filled before the start of the 2018 season, the Wolfpack is hardly devoid of veteran talent around which to build.
A reminder of that was provided by several of those players Saturday with their performances in a soggy Kay Yow Spring Game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“We’re in a whole different place than we were five years ago,” said Doeren, who is preparing to enter his sixth season at State. “There’s a lot of depth and competition.”
That’s especially true on offense, which still boasts plenty of playmakers despite the departures of running back Nyheim Hines, all-purpose back Jaylen Samuels, right tackle Will Richardson and right guard Tony Adams.
Quarterback Ryan Finley could have joined that group out the door after leading the Wolfpack to a nine-win season in 2017. Instead, the former graduate transfer decided to wait one more year before entering the draft by returning for his third season as the starter.
The importance of that move was vividly illustrated Saturday when Finley hooked up with Kelvin Harmon on a 73-yard touchdown pass in a driving rainstorm on the game’s opening possession. Finley completed eight of his 15 passes for 165 yards before turning things over to his backups for a second half played in near-monsoon conditions.
“He is competitive,” Doeren said of Finley. “Every day he comes in here and is very methodical with the process of getting better.”
It doesn’t hurt the process that Finley has a trio of proven receivers with which to work.
Between them, Harmon, Jakobi Meyers and Stephen Louis combined to catch 169 passes and score 11 touchdowns last season. Their reliability and chemistry with their quarterback was on full display during their spring game in which Harmon and Meyers had three receptions each — for 92 and 61 yards respectively — and Louis had one grab for eight yards.
“I think it’s no doubt that we have the best receiving corps in the ACC,” Finley said. “They all have their different strengths. It’s such a blessing to me to be able to throw the ball to those guys. How they work is so, so respectable. I really look up to all three of those guys.”
Finley said he has just as much of an affinity for returning center Garrett Bradbury, left guard Terrone Prescod and left tackle Tyler Jones, who have taken up a leadership role on the offensive line.
There aren’t as many leaders to go around on the defensive side of the ball. But those that do remain showed during the spring game that they’re ready and willing to shoulder a much heavier load as part of their talented, though inexperienced unit.
Linebacker Germaine Pratt was especially active Saturday. Although his stats were solid, with four tackles, including two for losses, and a quarterback hurry, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior’s biggest contribution this spring has been the influence he’s had on his younger teammates battling for starting jobs.
Redshirt freshman Isaiah Moore had a game-high 10 tackles Saturday while sophomores Louis Acceus and Raven Sanders had six each.
“Defense feeds off of energy, so we need a leader,” said Pratt, who finished fourth on the team in tackles last season and scored a pair of touchdowns despite not starting a game. “So I’m going to be the leader.”
It’s a similar role to the one that has been thrust on defensive end Darian Roseboro, a former four-star recruit. Roseboro is the last man standing on a defensive line that could see all four starters from last season taken in this year’s NFL Draft.
Roseboro, who had six tackles and two quarterback pressures Saturday, figures to get some help in the fall once experienced former backups Eurndraus Bryant and Shug Frazier return to action.
Both were among several key players — including top returning rusher Reggie Gallaspy II — that were sidelined during spring practice with minor injuries. Their absence and the miserable weather, combined with the arrival of top recruits in the fall, make it difficult to formulate any decisive conclusions based on Saturday’s game.
“Spring is always the hardest time because you lost your seniors and yeah, you signed players to replace them, but they’re not here,” Doeren said. “So your depth charts are decimated in some spots.
“At the same time, you look up and you see all these guys are coming back soon. The blessing in it is that these other kids get reps and get better. Then when everyone returns you’ve got a little bit more experienced roster to play with.”