Friday, August 28, 2009

O'Brien: Baker's resurgence lifts Pack backfield

Toney Baker’s determined, two-year rehabilitation from a knee injury has resulted in a position atop N.C. State’s depth chart at running back.

Coach Tom O’Brien released the depth chart Friday before his news conference to preview Thursday’s season opener against South Carolina at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Baker hasn’t played since suffering a serious injury to his right knee during the 2007 season opener against Central Florida. Doctors told him there was a 50 percent chance that he would never play football again.

He returned to practice this spring and was listed at No. 2 on the depth chart entering the fall behind fellow senior Jamelle Eugene.

“He spent a lot of extra time in the training room, spent a lot of time in the strength and conditioning area to get himself back into this position,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said Baker and Eugene, who has 1,168 career rushing yards and is an excellent receiver, will alternate in the backfield in a fashion similar to how Eugene and Andre Brown split time last season.

“It’s a good position to be in to have backs of that caliber, and they’ll share time,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know if you can say one is the starter and one is the backup, because they’re the same.”

Mattes gets start. Redshirt freshman R.J. Mattes of Concord has moved ahead of senior Andy Barbee into the starting spot at right guard, which was the only unsettled spot on the offensive line.

Mattes’ father, Ronald, played at Virginia in the 1980s while O’Brien was on George Welsh’s staff there.

“(His) Dad was the big, tough, physical guy, and I think certainly R.J. fits into that category,” O’Brien said.

Other positions of note:

- Junior Jeff Ruiz held off freshman Chris Ward to earn the start at punter.

- Sophomore Dwayne Maddox will start ahead of redshirt freshman Terrell Manning at the boundary linebacker spot vacated by injured Nate Irving.

- Redshirt freshman C.J. Wilson is a surprise starter at field cornerback over junior DeAndre Morgan, who had been praised by teammates as the leader of an inexperienced secondary. O’Brien was asked if Morgan is hurt, but said he wouldn’t comment until Tuesday, when he will release the injury report for the game.

Kickoff set for 7:03 p.m. At the urging of sports information director Annabelle Myers, O’Brien emphasized that kickoff for Thursday’s game is scheduled for 7:03 p.m.
Some confusion has been created because of schedule cards that were printed using an inaccurate kickoff time.

Fan Day Saturday. N.C. State players will meet fans and sign autographs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29 at the annual “Meet the Pack Day” at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Admission is free, but fans are asked to bring donations of school supplies for area at-risk students. All stadium lots will be available for free public parking, and fans can enter at Gates 2-4 and 8-9.

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Ken Tysiac