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August 11, 2011The major development coming out of Thursday evening's practice was that redshirt sophomore offensive guard Duran Christophe had surgery on a torn meniscus in his knee and will miss 3-4 weeks. Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien is optimistic that Christophe will be back either for the season opener Sept. 3 against Liberty or a week later at Wake Forest.
"The good news is that he's going to be there, so right now we are just going to go on and plan that he's going to be there for the first game and by game week if he's not there we'll make adjustment and get ready to play," O'Brien said. "Better now than September or October.
"We're still playing with a lot of different people. We'll figure it out and put a depth chart by the time we get there. There'll be a couple of guys that will get a shot if he's not able to play."
A healthy offensive line and strong running game are two keys to NC State's success this fall. O'Brien said that after two weeks of practice, fifth-year senior Curtis Underwood, Jr. and junior James Washington are still atop the depth chart at tailback while redshirt sophomore Brandon Barnes and redshirt freshman Tony Creecy are competing for the third spot.
"But that's after one scrimmage," O'Brien quickly noted. "We got another one tomorrow and that could change. Those four guys are in the mix. That's how they are running right now."
O'Brien added that the players will get more plays as the coaches increase the load on the team for the second scrimmage, scheduled for Friday evening. One advantage that Creecy has working for him is his hands. NC State asks their tailbacks to be significant contributors in the passing game. State backs caught 61 passes last year, and O'Brien said that Creecy has the best hands among them.
"He played wide receiver in high school," O'Brien stated. "I think he's got the best hands of all of them, but that doesn't mean they don't have hands. I think all of them catch the ball pretty well, but he seems much more comfortable catching the ball than they do. He doesn't fight it, makes a few one-handed grabs here or there."
Creecy was one of two highly touted running backs NC State inked in the 2010 class, the other being Mustafa Greene, who led the Pack in rushing last year with 134 rushes for 597 yards. Greene's familiarity with the position gave him a leg up on Creecy last preseason.
"I think [Creecy's] matured a lot," O'Brien said. "A lot goes back to what we just talked about. He played wide receiver in high school. Getting used to a new position, especially in pass protection when you have to get back there and step in pass protection. Lot of times where Mustafa was ahead, Mustafa's got a great feel, great cutting ability. That was the determining factor last year when he played, plus Washington was hurt and we had all kinds of other things going on. That was the decision last year."
Greene injured his foot during spring practice and had surgery that will likely keep him out until early-October if all goes according to schedule. That means Greene is likely to miss the first third of the season, but O'Brien said he has not given any thought to redshirting him.
"There are still a lot of games to be played after a third of the season," O'Brien explained. "It's going to depend on his development, how he comes back from this. We're not going to play them until he's 100 percent. It's one of those injuries that really the trainer and the doctor will have more say when he comes back. When he comes back then if there's a decision to be made I'll make it. Makes no sense thinking about it now."
What O'Brien is focused on right now is the healthy running backs, and he admits he feels better this year than he did last season at this time.
"They got experience now," O'Brien stated. "It's not a young group. We're not starting a kid that's never been in a football game like we did last year in the first game. We had two tailbacks and neither one of them had ever played in a college game before last year. Now you got a fifth-year senior, Washington's started four or five games, played a lot."