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April 10, 2012
Some position groups on NC State's roster, like wide receiver and linebacker, are undergoing several changes as the team prepares for the 2012 campaign. Others, like the defensive backs and offensive line, are flush with familiar faces and should serve as a pillar of strength for the team next fall.
NC State's offensive line boasts six players who have seen significant action during their college careers. Senior center Camden Wentz (6-foot-3, 301 pounds) is the anchor in the middle, a spot where he has started every game for the past two seasons.
A pair of redshirt seniors flank the pivot in left guard Andrew Wallace (6-5, 293), who started all 12 games during the 2010 season before a knee injury suffered before the Champs' Sports Bowl sidelined him, and right guard Zach Allen (6-3, 328), who has started all 26 games over the past two years. Redshirt junior Duran Christophe (6-6, 302), who started every game last fall, is also back on the interior of the offensive line.
The Wolfpack also has experience and talent at the tackle positions, although they are not as seasoned as the guys in the middle. Junior Robert Crisp (6-7, 312) has started just three games during his college days, but he has appeared in every game during his time on campus and allowed just one sack.
Mammoth redshirt sophomore Tyson Chandler (6-6, 340) opens the spring atop the organizational chart at left tackle, and he has never started a college game, but redshirt senior R.J. Mattes (6-6, 313) will push to regain that spot once he fully recovers from an injury. Mattes has started in 30 of his 32 collegiate appearances and was the youngest front-line starter for the program since 2003 when he cracked the opening lineup as a rookie in 2009.
The offensive line's performance all starts with the center Wentz, who is in charge of making all of the units' calls and ensuring that the five big men are on the same page. Quarterback Mike Glennon has the authority to overrule his center, but said that is something that he has never done.
"Camden is the quarterback of the offensive line," Glennon explained. "He knows the offensive scheme from the offensive line's standpoint better than anybody. He gets the defense called out and he gets our plays called. He's a really smart guy, he's tough and he gets nasty out there.
"He knows exactly what we're trying to do on every play. I think that it's really important for the offensive line that the center makes all the calls and he does a great job at doing it."
In addition to the Pack's talent and experience along the front line is an abundance of size. The smallest of the five atop the spring organizational chart would be either Wentz, who was awarded the 2011 Jim Ritcher Award for being the team's Most Valuable Offensive Lineman and checks in at 6-3, 301 pounds; or Wallace, who is 6-5 and tips the scales at 293. The seven big men average out to a shade over 6-5 and 312.7 pounds, but what Wentz lacks in size, he makes up for in other areas.
"The first thing he has is balance, that's the best thing an offensive lineman can have," head coach Tom O'Brien, a former offensive line coach, said. "Two, he's smart. He understands the offense, he gets the offense headed in the right direction, he can set the pass protection right, he can set the run blocking right and all those things.
"He's very confident and, at the same time, it's awfully difficult to snap the ball both under center and shotgun then move and do those things. Then, he's a tough kid and that's another qualification of a good offensive lineman because it's the only spot on the football field where you're going to get smashed each and every play."
Wentz thinks that it is obvious this spring that he and his linemates have been working together for a long time now, which means they've got the basics down and are perfecting the finer points.
"I think we're really getting after it," Wentz noted. "I think you can tell there's a group of us that have now done this for a few years. It's not learning the basics any more, it's about fine tuning the specifics now.
"The six or seven of us have all played together for at least one season, and most of us have been together for two. You know when the guy playing next to you needs your help and what he's going to do, so you can get yourself in the right position, which really helps. Otherwise, you're guessing where a guy is going to be. Now that we've all played together for such a long time, it's pretty much you know where they're going to be and you have each others' backs."
Wentz doesn't see the offensive line as a strength of the team this year any more or less than previous years. He contends that the offense has plenty of talented athletes at every position, although he does call the big men up front the backbone of an offense.
"I think we have good players everywhere," the center said. "We have one heck of a quarterback behind us, we have a bunch of good running backs and we have some good, young receivers. I think the offensive line needs to be a strength of any offense because we're the backbone, the offense isn't going to do anything if we don't do our job. I think the mentality of an offensive lineman always has be that they're the best so everyone else can play off of us. I wouldn't really call us the strength of the offense - our mindset has to be that we're the strength - but we have good players all around us."