The second entry in our eight-part positional breakdown examines NC State’s new-look backfield. Yesterday we discussed quarterbacks, tomorrow it’s receivers, and the offensive line is due up on Friday. Next week we flip to defense and special teams.
|HB||Curtis Underwood||5-11, 220||RS Jr||0||’08: 32 Att, 116 Yds, 3.6 YPA, 1 TD / Missed spring|
|FB||Taylor Gentry||6-2, 250||Jr||’09: 0 Att, 10 Rec, 83 Yds, 8.3 YPC, 1 TD|
Projected Starter (HB): C. Underwood, 5-11 220, RS Jr, ’08: 32 Att., 116 Yd., 3.6 YPA, 1 TD
Reserves (HB): B. Barnes, 6-0 209, RS So, ’09: 25 Att., 79 Yd., 3.2 YPA, 1 TD
J. Washington, 6-0 180, So, ’09: 21 Att., 76 Yd., 3.6 YPA, 2 TD
Projected Starter (FB): T. Gentry, 6-2 250, Jr, ’09: 0 Att., 10 Rec., 83 Yd., 8.3 YPC, 1 TD
Practically every unit on both sides of the ball for the Wolfpack can be squeezed neatly in one of two groups: stocked with veteran talent or flush with the wet-behind-ear types; there is little middle ground to be found. And no offensive squad is as unproven as the running back corps. For the first time in half a decade, NC State enters the season without an experienced #1 back on the roster.
It was way back in 2005 when State last had to dramatically refresh its running game. That season the team welcomed high school All-Americans Toney Baker and Andre Brown to campus. The duo (teamed with Jamelle Eugene beginning in 2006) led productive, if unspectacular, careers, pacing an offense plagued by weak blocking and poor quarterback play.
The Baker-Brown-Eugene stable replaced what was essentially a one-back offense under the much maligned T.A. McClendon. The trio was often beset by injuries – notably Baker who missed almost two full seasons after suffering a knee injury in the 2007 opener – and the shuffling lineup led to no one back leading the team in carries in any two consecutive seasons. In fact, over the five years the Wolfpack backfield was occupied by some combination of the three backs, their production steadily declined. Baker and Brown split carries evenly in 2005 to the tune of 101.1 yards per game, 4.79 yards per carry, and 11 touchdowns. By last season, Baker and Eugene combined for just 90.2 yards per game, 4.18 yards per carry, and nine rushing touchdowns.
With these three now gone (Brown graduated in 2009, Eugene in 2010, and Baker opted out of an NCAA-granted sixth season this spring), it’s time to press the reset button again as a new trio of backs are fighting for position on the depth chart.
Redshirt junior Curtis Underwood is the most experienced of the bunch, though he missed all of 2009 after suffering a knee injury in spring workouts. Underwood carried the ball 19 times for 84 yards (4.4 y/att) in five games as a true freshman and saw action in another five games in 2008, picking up 116 yards (3.6) on 32 carries. His only career score came on a 10-yard carry in the fourth quarter of the ’08 opener against William & Mary. Underwood has a good build at 5’11”, 220, but is probably undersized for the bruiser back role he plays.
Complementing Underwood in the backfield is a pair of sophomores, Brandon Barnes and James Washington. Both Barnes (6’0” 209) and Washington (6’0” 180) are more oriented toward speed and finesse, but either could win out top billing.
Barnes entered college as a high school All-American and one of the top 50 recruits in the nation according to most recruiting services. He redshirted his freshman season in 2008 and only saw action in three games last year, mostly in a rout of Murray State. Barnes played both sides of the ball in high school and like Andre Brown is a receiving threat in the backfield. His 2009 numbers provide an insufficient sample size of what he can do. If he recovers fully from an ankle injury that kept him out of spring practice, expect his 3.2 yards-per-carry to increase behind an experienced offensive line.
The third primary piece of the Wolfpack backfield in true sophomore James Washington. Washington is the smallest back on the roster but could be the most dangerous. He put up gaudy numbers playing high school ball at the 6-A level in Florida, but his size seems to have kept away most big name suitors. He saw good action in the first three games last season, picking up 76 yards (3.6) and two touchdowns on 21 carries, before going down with a season-ending knee injury. Like Barnes, he is a promising receiving target out of the backfield, but his injury recovery raises more questions about his ability to separate from defenders.
Fullback Taylor Gentry has yet to carry the ball entering his third season after walking on, but remains a solid short-yardage receiver and an excellent downfield blocker. He caught 10 passes in seven games last season (8.3 y/c), one for a score. His size (6’2” 250) may hint at a future in goal line situations.
Newcomers looking to join the fray include speedy former receiver Anthony Creecy and powerful but undersized Mustafa Greene. Creecy has a chance to see some action this year, but it’ll likely be a redshirt campaign for Greene.