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Spring game a chance for Knight to carve out spot

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N.C. State will get its first look at the 2019 team when the program hosts its annual Kay Yow Spring Game on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium. The intrasquad contest will kick off at 1 p.m. 

The Wolfpack is coming off consecutive nine-win seasons, but has some holes to fill as several starters are gone due to graduation. 

There are voids at all skill positions, as Ryan Finley, Reggie Gallaspy, Jakobi Meyers, and Kelvin Harmon all have to be replaced. 

The process has started in earnest. On Saturday, N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren will get to see it inside Carter-Finley for the first time in 2019. 

Southern Nash High alum Zonovan Knight appears set to get his first reps in front of fans Saturday. There will be plenty of competition to see who gets the majority of the carries at running back in 2019, as Gallaspy exits after giving the Wolfpack its third straight 1,000-yard rushing season. 

Knight will have plenty of competition for playing time and Doeren is keen to see what several different players can bring to the table. 

Doeren recently mentioned that he felt Knight was ahead of most of the incoming freshmen. It is still too early to see if that translates to significant playing time this season. 

“The running back position, once we get Jordan Houston in here, getting to see him and how he competes and getting Ricky [Person] back to have three healthy guys there that we think can go, will be a position that we want to watch,” Doeren said. 

There are also some losses to graduation on the offensive line. Garrett Bradbury, Tyler Jones, and Terrone Prescod also have moved on, along with former offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford, who took the same position at Atlantic Division rival Louisville after the 2018 season. 

The lack of depth in the offensive front could have an impact on how the game is played Saturday. If N.C. State has the bodies, it will be full go. 

“Hopefully we’ll have enough offensive linemen to have a spring game,” Doeren said. “That’s still up in the air. Right now, assuming we can have it, we want to see the guys compete. We want to see the finish of plays, contact catches that we’re not having in practice, and at the quarterback position we want to see who can sustain drives, who can score touchdowns, who can win on third down, and who can not make mistakes and hurt our football team.”

Another mitigating factor is the change of philosophies that occurs when there are several new coaches added into the fray. 

“There’s not going to be a lot of special teams just because we’ve changed a lot of schemes that we don’t want to put on TV,” Doeren said. “There won’t be a lot of blitzing or any of that. I think you’ll see a pretty vanilla game plan so that both sides can play technique.”

Doeren is happy with the new additions on his staff, which includes former Duke assistant Kurt Roper and the moving of Des Kitchens and George McDonald to co-offensive coordinators. 

“It’s been fun getting to know these guys,” Doeren said. “The first thing is just you can tell that they’re excited to be here. They’ve blended right in. Once the families of the coaches get here, you can tell it helps them. They’ve brought some new things, and we’re getting to experiment with some ideas. It’s been good growth, and just hearing them talk in our staff meetings, even bringing up ideas, gives you new ways to look at things and different lenses.”

And it appears the Doeren will be their boss for the foreseeable future after recently signing a contract extension that ties him to the program through the 2023 campaign. 

It has given the head coach solid footing as he enters his seventh season at the helm and looks to build N.C. State’s program further. 

“It means the world to me and my family,” Doeren said of his added job security. “I love where I’m at. My sons and my wife, we’re all happy. This is home to us.

“I can recruit with a five-year contract. It makes a big difference. We had three commitments within 48 hours of that announcement. You can see how that helps in recruiting, for our players, and the parents of our players with the peace of mind that their sons are going to be with the staff that recruited them. I think it matters a lot.”