RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Wolfpack is clearly in a period of transition as Dave Doeren becomes the coach after leaving the position at Northern Illinois. He has been in place since early December, so there was time to digest the positive and negatives of the program.
Still, it has been a crash course, and there were gaps in depth displayed in the spring. Already, the August practice session seemed to get off to a better start.
"We're way ahead of where we were," Doeren said. "The guys know what to do."
The Wolfpack was mostly steady under coach Tom O'Brien, who was fired in November after the regular season concluded with another 4-4 season within the ACC. The 40-35 overall mark under O'Brien wasn't good enough to appease the administration, and there's no doubt there's an aim for something spectacular.
It might be difficult for a dynamic season given the quarterback situation is in flux with the departure of two-year starter Mike Glennon to the NFL and an overhaul in some areas on defense.
At least there's options at the quarterback position, but with a faster pace part of Doeren's plans, there comes some roadblocks when putting in a new system. The Wolfpack will have to hope that running back Tony Creecy can be up to speed to offer consistency from the backfield.
Three of the four 2012 starters from the secondary are in NFL training camps, so cornerback Dontae Johnson is the lone returner among defensive backs. The transition in that area could lead to some uneasiness as well.
"It's going to be hard to replace those guys," Johnson said of David Amerson, Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff. "You just try to fill the void with the young guys we do have."
Even with all the questions, Doeren isn't publicly pushing for a chance to tiptoe into this. He's used to winning and he might have picked up on the notion that the Wolfpack fan base isn't known for patience. So he's stressing urgency.
"I think we're learning what that means right now," he said.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The Wolfpack won't leave home until October, so the four-game stretch to start the season will be vital. The new coaching staff will want to put together a good product in front of the home fans, but there are a couple of danger spots with Louisiana Tech the first opponent and then a nationally televised (Thursday-night) matchup with ACC preseason favorite Clemson on Sept. 19. Since defeating Clemson in 2003, the Wolfpack has won only once since then against the Tigers, who are an ACC divisional foe. Overall, it's an eight-game home schedule.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Wolfpack will have to receive maximum production from the defensive front because that's an area where there's good depth and some quality experience. With so many questions surrounding the offense (much of it simply the unknown, not necessarily deficiencies), the defense could help set the tone with strong performances. N.C. State will count on newcomers and players coming back onto the scene (S Jarvis Byrd, LB D.J. Green) for key contributions. Learning the offense and the coaching staff's ability to install a large portion of the system in time for the start of the season could be factors in how well the Wolfpack plays across the first half of the schedule.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The Wolfpack will have to adapt to the schemes installed by the new coaching staff while identifying leaders on both sides of the ball. There's an unsettled quarterback situation as training camp begins, so that's something that needs to sort out while dealing with an early schedule that has a couple of potential pitfalls across the first month. Coach Dave Doeren said he's willing to take the quarterback competition down to the final week of preseason practice.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.