Spring Spotlight: Tailbacks
SPRING SPOTLIGHT: QUARTERBACKS RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS #29 Jamelle Eugene: 5'10 195 - Redshirt Junior #24 Andre Brown: 6'0 228 - Senior #3 Curtis Underwood: 5'11 215 - Sophomore There is no doubt that tailback is NC State's deepest position, as the Wolfpack has three quality players capable of changing a game and a talented underclassman. Last season saw two backs enter with high expectations but ended with both sidelined much of the season due to injuries and the Wolfpack finding a very reliable option in Jamelle Eugene. Curtis Underwood A reserve his freshman season and No. 3 on the depth chart to start 2007, Eugene stepped in for Andre Brown in the Florida State game and responded with a 101-yard effort on just 14 carries against a stout Seminole defense. Over the next four games, Eugene's work rate increased, as he totaled 63 yards on 22 carries against East Carolina, 112 yards on 23 rushes in the win over Virginia, a 27-carry, 89-yard effort in Coral Gables versus the Hurricanes, and ending with his signature performance, a 159-yard, 32-carry, three-touchdown performance against rival North Carolina. Eugene was the difference maker in the game, and his emergence keyed the Pack's late-season turnaround. He finished the year totaling 669 yards and five scores, and he will be looking to build on his efforts this spring. Also back for NC State is senior Andre Brown. Brown appeared to be well on his way to a potential 1,000-yard season, but injured his foot in the loss at Florida State and only recorded three more carries the rest of the year. At 6-foot and 230 pounds, Brown has the power to run over defenders and the speed to run by them. He tallied 447 yards and five scores while finishing with a 4.7 yards per carry average. Brown is expected to be fully healthy and pushing Eugene this spring. Curtis Underwood probably didn't think he would play as a true freshman, but after Brown and Toney Baker went down he was No. 2 on the depth chart. He finished with 91 yards on 19 carries and showed some promise when on the field. POTENTIAL IMPACT NEWCOMERS #22 Toney Baker: 5'10 225 - Redshirt Junior (Will Miss Spring Practice) Toney Baker is hardly a newcomer, but the Wolfpack will more than welcome back the talented rusher.In 2006, Baker led the team in rushing with 688 yards and averaged 57.3 yards-per-game, 10th in the ACC. His best game came at Clemson, where he rushed for a career-high 174 yards on 34 carries, the fourth-highest tally in school history. The most impressive stat might be he didn't lose a single yard during the game. Baker appeared to snatch the starting tailback position after a terrific 2007 spring that ended with him rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in the Red-White Game. Toney Baker After being named to the Doak Walker Watch List, he started the season opener versus Central Florida and rushed for 38 yards on 10 carries before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The day after the UCF game Baker had arthroscopic surgery, and Dr. Michael Fajgenbaum discovered cartilage damage that required reconstructive surgery, effectively ending his season. Baker won't participate in spring workouts, and head coach Tom O'Brien stated on Signing Day that he was on track with his progress. Sitting out the spring will be beneficial as it will allow him to fully heal his knee and be 100% for fall practice. A healthy Toney Baker is capable of being one of the top backs in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and he is an ideal fit for NC State's offensive system. Newcomer or not, NC State missed his playmaking ability in 2007 and will be thrilled to have him back. KEY BATTLEWhile Tom O'Brien admits that he likes the luxury of having three or four capable tailbacks, expect Jamelle Eugene and Andre Brown to battle it out for the starting position over the next couple of months. Eugene drew major praise for his success late in the year, but when on the field, Andre Brown has been extremely productive and has flashed explosive, superstar potential at the position. Assuming Brown is completely healthy, this should be a darn good battle during the spring. Andre Brown IDEAL SITUATION With Baker already sidelined, ideally NC State would like to come out of the spring with Eugene, Brown, and Underwood 100%. All three backs have showcased what they can do. While Underwood is still relatively inexperienced, he's done some damage on the ground and has proven he could be a solid option when given the opportunity. Brown and Eugene both have signature performances that proved they can succeed at this level. Brown's two-game performance as a true freshman against Southern Miss. and Florida State opened a lot of eyes... gaining 427 yards and three scores in basically six quarters can do that. Pack fans won't forget Eugene's play against the Tar Heels. While NC State appeared to be in control throughout the game, North Carolina made a push late, but Eugene proved to be the best player on the field. Pack fans will likely lean on that all year when discussing next year's contest against the Tar Heels. Through all the personnel losses, the Wolfpack will still return the best player from last year's game. The fact remains all these guys can play. Ideally, NC State would like them to stay injury-free and add back Toney Baker in the fall to give the Pack a four-deep rotation at the position. POST-SPRING PREDICTIONS Eugene and Brown will have big-time performances in the spring game, but Tom O'Brien won't name a true "starter," and all four backs will earn reps in the fall. O'Brien has stated time and time again that he likes a two-back system and it is always good to have three, even four, capable of providing production. There is no real need to name a starter here because they all will likely get carries. If NC State's offensive line can gel, tailback will be the strength of the team in 2008.