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NC State Football

Dave Doeren Updates Devin Leary, Recent Scrimmage And Much More

March 29, 2021

NC State head coach Dave Doeren met with the media via Zoom Monday morning to discuss the Wolfpack’s progression through spring camp.

NOTE: Click on the video in the player above to watch Doeren’s press conference.

Opening Statement

"We’re nine practices in. We had our first scrimmage on Friday night. It was good to get out there and see guys finish plays. I think, looking at the nine practices we’ve had, there’s been a lot of good reps for young players. It’s fun to see the incoming guys, transfers and newcomers, progress, and then other guys picked up where they left off. It’s been fun seeing C.J. Riley get back to form. Last year, he obviously played, but I didn’t think he played the way he was capable after the ACL injury. Even though physically he may be there a year later, mentally, it’s sometimes longer before he can overcome that injury. He’s playing really good football. It’s been fun to see C.J. get back to being not just a big guy that can catch but a big guy that can run and catch. I know the quarterback position is where everyone wants to go. Devin [Leary] is playing very confident. I didn’t think he had a great day Saturday, but he’s had a really good spring. Ben Finley is way ahead of where he was a year ago at this time. Aaron [McLaughlin] is starting to do some things where he’s not thinking as much. I think it’s a lot learning an offense against any college defense but particularly one that has so many players back in it like ours. Our defense is playing really fast, so it’s been fun to watch. The transfer guys that are in here, Derrek Pitts and Cyrus Fagan, have both been great additions to our back end. They’re competing. I’m not going to say they’re starting right now because they’re not, but they’re competing everyday, making us better, and it’s great competition. There’s competitive depth at the corner, nickel, and safety positions. I thought our running backs, with Bam [Knight] and Ricky [Person, Jr.] being out for the spring, it’s been fun to see those guys rep. Demarcus Jones and Delbert Mims really ran hard and physical in the scrimmage. Trent Pennix has done a lot of things in our offense. We’re trying to teach him some different spots and be able to use him with his versatility. He had a nice, short-yardage catch that went for a touchdown. On the D-line, we’ve lost Alim [McNeill], but we’re seeing the progress with C.J. Clark and Davin Vann. Daniel Joseph is back. Savion [Jackson] is probably the most improved out of the group. He’s playing really well, and he’s almost 300 pounds. With him doing some of the things he’s doing, it’s fun to watch him take the next step as a player. We’re excited about being out there, for one, but also the fun the guys are having, the intensity, and the way we’re practicing. There’s a lot of things between now and the end of spring that I’d like to see us improve on, particularly with the younger guys. There’s still too many penalties, and most of them are happening in the freshman and sophomore classes. A lot of that is fatigue and focus issues with younger players. It’s been fun being a part of it.”

How has Clark embraced the extra reps as the guy to potentially replace McNeill at the nose?

“He got his first start in the bowl game, and I think he plays really hard. That’s one thing about C.J. we love. It’s been more about getting him big enough. He was probably in the 280’s, and now he’s up close to 300. We need him to be able to play with the motor that he had last year but at the size that we need for him to be an imposing guy in there. He definitely brings a different type of nose guard than Alim. Alim was 330-something pounds, and so you’re playing a quicker guy. I think we have a good rotation in there right now with him, Davin, and Joshua Harris where different types of people are playing that spot, and that creates different problems for the center and guards who are comboing those two guys. It’s about playing really hard and taking advantage of opportunities. He’s a disruptive player which I like a little bit different whereas Alim was occupying two blocks a lot. I think C.J. is a guy that can really penetrate and get some things going that way for us."

Is Jackson still playing on the outside?

“He’s playing our defensive end position. He’s moving well. He’s a pleaser; he’s a kid that doesn’t want to make mistakes. Kentavius Street used to be like that. Sometimes when you’re in that mindset, you don’t play as fast because you’re afraid you’re going to make mistakes, and when you play like that, you actually play slower. He’s cut loose, and he’s let the fear of failure go. He’s making a lot more plays. He’s a lot more disruptive, and he’s been fun to watch this spring.”

How has the freshman class acclimated to everything? How do you think the current situation has changed things for them?

“It’s a tough time for all these kids in that age group whether you’re a football player or not. I feel for them. I have a son that’s a freshman in college, and watching what those kids lost their senior year of high school with their prom, graduation, and all that, and now they’re in school online, not getting the social interaction that normal freshmen would get, it’s not good. Does it hurt the bonding of our football team? No, it doesn’t. These guys are together a lot. Our football team bonding is fine, but the societal and cultural interaction that you love to see these guys being a part of on campus is a lot different. You do worry about that. I never liked the online learning academic part of this for anybody regardless of age group. In general, our country is losing out right now when it comes to learning, growing, and the building blocks of the prerequisite courses everybody needs in life. Nobody’s getting that, and I am concerned about that.”

What are your thoughts on Jordan Poole?

“Jordan Poole has done a good job. He’s swimming a little bit mentally, but he can run. He’s really fast. He’s physical. He’s everything we hoped he’d be athletically. He’s a fun kid to coach. He doesn’t make a lot of the same mistakes twice. He’s just trying to learn and transition from playing high school football to college football a semester early, and it’s a lot. He’s getting a lot of reps with Payton [Wilson] and Drake [Thomas] being out. He and Caden Fordham have gotten all those reps, so it’s been really good for him. In his situation, being here early has been a great decision just because of the amount of work he’s getting on the field right now.”

How important has getting a full spring with Tim Beck been for Leary? How would you assess Leary’s progression because of that?

“You’re starting to see Devin finish Coach’s sentences. He knows the offense now. It’s just putting it into play. I think sometimes all quarterbacks try to make too many plays and not just distribute the ball. At the end of the day, that guy’s job is like a point guard: distribute the ball, pass the football to the right people, hand it to the right people, and not do too much. Let your arm talent do the rest. I think his biggest thing is sometimes those guys want to make some plays that aren’t there and that gets them in trouble instead of just taking what the defense gives you and letting those guys be the athletes that make you look good. With him and Coach Beck being together, it’s been great. It’s impressive to see what Coach Beck did with two quarterbacks last year that he didn’t get to coach in spring ball. Both of those guys performed at a high level under his leadership. You’re getting to see that with Ben Finley now, too. Ben’s in year two with Coach, and you’re getting to see that growth with him. Aaron’s the one that you can see is really struggling at times mentally.”

Do you think Leary wants the game a little bit more because he lost so much time last year due to injury?

“I think losing the game to injury is a humbling thing. It’s a reflective part of the game that you wish every player could have without being injured. It really does give you perspective to how much you love the game and how much you regret maybe taking some things lightly prior to. You wish you could practice. You’re dying to practice, but you can’t when you’re hurt. When you were healthy beforehand, you were sometimes like, ‘Ugh, I’ve got to practice.’ It really put things in perspective on how much you love being out there. Devin’s definitely learned from that experience that way.”

How important is it for Finley and McLaughlin to get these extra reps in the spring?

"Every move-the-ball type segment we can do with those quarterbacks, whether it’s out in the field or red zone or two-minute you name it, where it’s a true move-the-football drives, those are critical for these guys right now. We need to get as many of them as we can and continue that when we get into fall camp. That’s the most important thing. We can do skelly. We can do one-on-ones and all that kind of stuff, but that’s not real football. It’s not 300-pound linemen chasing you and trying to put you into the ground. Real football is different, so the more we can do those types of exercises for them, the better. The more they’ll get confident, their pocket presence will improve. All that stuff pays off.”

Has anyone in the tight end group stepped up considering the lack of experience in the group?

"Dylan Parham has had a really good spring. He’s catching the ball well. He’s always been a really physical blocker for us. I thought last year he was one of our most physical blockers. It’s great having him in there. I think Andrew Jayne is a guy. Andrew played professional baseball and walked on here last year, so his college is getting paid for by pro baseball. He’s a great athlete. He’s learning how to play still, but he’s doing some really good things. Kameron Walker is a guy we’re excited about. He’s been hurt for part of the spring, but he’s worked really hard. I think [Ezemdi] Udoh is coming along. He has a great skill set. Cam Woods is the same thing, a tough, hard-working guy that can do everything. I think Parham is by far the lead guy in that room. I think Trent Pennix is someone that can do a lot of the things that you saw back when Jaylen Samuels was here and Dylan Autenrieth and Cole Cook and their backfield placement, where they can be lead blockers but also used in the pass game out of the backfield. I think with Trent, you’re kind of going to see his position change where he can play running back but also play that H hybrid-type position for us to give us some flexibility with personnel.”

How has the offensive line developed? Have there been any standouts?

"The guys that played last year, Dylan McMahon has really worked hard on his pass protection. You’ve seen him get a lot better. That was an area that he struggled in last year at times. Grant Gibson has picked up where he left off. [Ikem Ekwonu] has picked up where he left off. It’s good to have Tyrone [Riley] back out there. I think Derrick Eason is probably one of the most improved O-linemen. Derrick is playing guard and tackle both. Bryson Speas is back. He’s played a lot of football. Of the freshmen, Lyndon Cooper has played a lot this spring, and we’re impressed by him. I think he’s a guy who can do a lot for us at that position. He’s very strong. Patrick Matan, before Saturday’s scrimmage, was doing a lot of good things. He struggled Saturday at times, but he’s come on compared to where he was a year ago. I like the competitive depth we have in there. Obviously with losing [Justin] Witt and [Joe] Sculthorpe, there’s some guys that need to emerge. We have a lot of guys that played last year on the line that are back. We still have a transfer that’s joining us here when we get to the summer. I like that group. We’ve just got to get the chemistry of that group where we want it now."

How surreal is it that you’re entering your ninth season at NC State? How much growth do you think you’ve made since 2013?

"I’m proud to be here still. I think being at a school as long as I have says a lot about NC State’s commitment to me and also my commitment back. This is where I want to be. I love it here. It’s a great place to live and recruit. Our children love it here. Sara and I have developed some great friends. We love our church. There’s still things to finish that we haven’t finished. We’ve done a lot of good things here. I really like the staff that I have right now. It’s fun coming to work with them every day. This team has been through a lot. If I can make it through year 10, a couple years from now, there’s not many coaches that can say they’ve coached at one school for 10 years in a row. That would be quite an accomplishment. I’m gonna take it one day at a time. How have I grown? I think when you’re a head coach, and remember I was 31 when I became a head coach. I had coached from 22 to 31 as an assistant. You get really good at being an assistant during that period of time. All of a sudden you become a head coach and even though you’ve worked really hard and you’re really good at being an assistant, it doesn’t mean you’re a great head coach right away. It takes time. There’s lessons that you don’t get. Gameday is way different as a head coach than as an assistant. I’ve got a better routine. I’ve learned through experience. I’ve been through a lot of tight ball games, one minute or two minutes on the clock with possessions. All those things add up over time. You get better at managing your staff. You get better at knowing how to hire people when you lose staff. There’s a lot of things I’m better at now. More than anything I think it’s just being patient. Like you, like fans, I want stuff to happen like that. I don’t have a lot of patience for poor performance. I’ve learned how to help people more now than I did back then. It’s been a great experience here, and I look forward to hopefully many years to come.”

Is Wilson and Thomas’ absence from camp precautionary? Do you feel they’ve had enough game experience that missing camp won’t be a major hindrance?

"It’s not precautionary. It’s part of their recovery from their surgeries that they had. They’re both doing great. We’re not going to put a guy out there before the trainers say we can. They’re just not there in that progression yet. They are both lifting and running with different change of direction things, but the contact piece on their timeline isn’t fitting where we are at in spring ball.”

With Pro Day tomorrow, can you give us a story on how you’ve seen other players transition between their final college game and pro day?

"I’ve seen Alim and Joe already. I haven’t seen Cary [Angeline]. They both looked great. I think the biggest things that happen to guys when they get to these facilities where they are forced to eat a certain way for however many days they are there is that they are able to change their body composition very quickly. For us, we feed them. We have a training table, but we’re not standing there over them saying ‘this is the only thing you can eat.’ We’re not following them around all day long. I think it’s just the regiment of their nutrition piece. And they don’t have school, so it’s just 24/7 get in shape. You get to see them transition from 330 to 315 or whatever it is. They just look better. They’re dedicated to that task. Obviously as a college coach we wish we could get them to do that during their time here, but they have to go to school here. They’re up cramming for tests and writing papers. We all know how that is. Sometimes you’re going to eat a pizza at midnight when you go through something like that. It’s hard to get them into that same exact type of nutritional habit. I hope the best for them. Obviously tomorrow is our pro day, and we’re excited for these guys. We look forward to them going out and doing the best they can to take that next step.”

How do you juggle the wide receivers with the mix of experienced players and younger guys? Have there been any young receivers that have impressed you thus far?

"It is nice to have Thayer [Thomas], Emeka [Emezie], Devin Carter, and C.J. Riley back. That’s big, having those kinds of players back. But we want explosive plays. We want big plays in the pass game. There’s competition. Porter Rooks is competing hard to get more reps. Keyon Lesane is competing hard to get more reps, as are Chris Scott and Jalen Coit. These are young players that are fast. So how do they get the ball? They’ve got to go out and outperform these guys. That’s on them. It’s not on us as coaches. They’ve got to earn it. They’ve got to show it. They’ve got to be consistent. I can’t really point out a single guy. I want to see all of them make plays, whoever is in there. Anthony Smith is a guy that we think has tremendous upside. He hasn’t shown it yet as far as being consistent catching the football. Running fast and getting open are great, but you’ve got to finish with the ball and score. We’re just trying to get those guys up confidence wise. It was good to get in the scrimmage. Chris Scott, Jalen Coit and Keyon all made plays, so it’s good to see. Just keep progressing them. We want to have good rotation at that position. If you’re playing fast on offense and you’re able to get 70 to 80 plays, you’re going to need a good rotation at that position in order to stay how you want to health wise."

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