RALEIGH — Friday might only have been the first day of preseason practice for the NC State football team. But for quarterback Ryan Finley and his veteran offensive teammates, it seemed more like business as usual.
“It’s a good time,” Finley said following a crisp opening workout at the Wolfpack’s indoor facility. “We’ve got so many guys back, so it’s pretty special getting out here and kind of feeling that summer work come to fruition and kind of that chemistry we’ve been able to build.”
Although State lost two of its highest-profile stars in leading rusher Nyheim Hines and all-purpose back Jaylen Samuels, all of its other top offensive threats return from a team that averaged 32.2 points per game last season.
That continuity helped the Wolfpack get its preseason camp off to a fast start.
According to wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, Friday’s practice was much faster and much better coordinated than usual for an opening day workout.
“We went faster, we had more reps and less breaks,” Harmon, one of two ACC players with more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2017. “It was pretty good that we’re in such great shape.”
Harmon joins fellow junior Jakobi Meyers and graduate student Stephen Louis as the anchors of what is considered by many around the ACC to be the league’s best returning receiving corps. Together they combined to catch 169 passes and score 11 touchdowns a year ago.
It’s a group that’s poised to put up even bigger numbers this season, thanks to the connection it has developed with Finley over the course of their careers.
“Obviously these guys have all been here now going down to their third year with each other so, they’ve got great chemistry and they care a lot about each other so that’s the other part of it,” Doeren said. “I think that chemistry and their relationship is very personal and they all want each other to be very successful.”
The more successful they are, the better off State will be considering the uncertainty of a defensive unit that has some major holes to fill with the loss of eight starters — including all four linemen to the NFL draft.
Although Doeren said he was encouraged by the progress his rebuilding defense made during the spring and is impressed by the physical improvement made by several younger players in line for bigger roles, he said it’s still too early to determine how much work will be necessary to get the group ready for State’s Sept. 1 opener against James Madison.
At the same time, he said Friday’s first practice was a good starting point — especially considering the circumstances.
“I would have liked to have been outside,” the Wolfpack coach said. “Other than that, it was great to be back on the field with the guys and it was pretty clean.
“It was good to see some guys that haven’t been out there and obviously your first glimpse really for us as coaches are the kids we’ve signed, even though they’re here trying to get introduced to play football and it was fun watching that but – no pads. You know you can’t get too excited about anything. It’s definitely fun to see them back out there.”
Offensive lineman Garrett Bradbury echoed his coach’s feelings.
At least, for now.
“It’s not Day 27 of camp, it’s Day 1,” the graduate center said. “So everyone feels good today. Talk to me in about a week or two when things are a little different.”
In other camp news, Doeren announced that tight end Cary Angeline will have to sit out the first three games this season before being eligible to play for the Wolfpack.
The 6-foot-7 transfer, who redshirted at Southern Cal last season, played in two games for the Trojans in 2016. He dressed for a third, but didn’t play, leading State to ask the NCAA for a waiver that would allow him to play after only two games rather than three. But Doeren said the appeal was denied and Angeline won’t be available until the Wolfpack’s game against Marshall on Sept. 22.
Doeren also said that projected starting nickel back Stephen Griffin missed practice Friday and defensive tackle Shug Frazier was limited because of foot injuries. Neither are considered serious and both are expected back and at full speed sooner rather than later.