Sunday, August 9, 2009

Punter shines, kicker shaky at Pack scrimmage

RALEIGH - The play of N.C. State’s specialists – for better and for worse – was the most eye-opening development of the Wolfpack’s first scrimmage Sunday.

Entering preseason camp, coach Tom O’Brien listed punter as one of the team’s biggest concerns. The staff hoped freshman Chris Ward of Fayetteville, Ga., would be able to challenge junior Jeff Ruiz for the job vacated by 2008 senior Bradley Pierson.

In his first scrimmage, Ward punted twice for a total of 97 yards, an outstanding effort by any account. Ruiz’s yardage on two punts totaled 62 yards. Although Ward’s showing was a welcome development, O’Brien wasn’t ready to anoint him the answer for the Wolfpack at his position.

“One swallow does not make a spring,” O’Brien said, borrowing a quote from former Virginia coach George Welsh that emphasizes the importance of repetitive strong performances.

Place-kicker, meanwhile, was supposed to be one of N.C. State’s strengths with 2008 starter Josh Czajkowski returning. Last season, Czajkowski made 16 of his 19 field goal attempts in an excellent showing as a sophomore.

Czajkowski missed three of his five field goal attempts Sunday, which O’Brien said is a cause for concern. He said Czajkowski changed his approach to the ball during the offseason.

“He thinks it’s going to be better for him,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully like in golf, he’s got to (just) work through his swing and get it in gear. Now he’s been kicking great in practice, so we put him back in spots that he’s had trouble with. And he still had trouble with them.”

O’Brien provided only limited statistics from the scrimmage to the media, especially for the offense. The team rushed for 103 yards on 27 carries, and quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon combined to go 20-for-31 passing for 168 yards and three interceptions with one touchdown.

Individual rushing, passing and receiving statistics were not provided.

On defense, freshman cornerback Rashard Smith returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown and senior cornerback Koyal George added a 33-yard interception return. Redshirt freshman cornerback C.J. Wilson intercepted a pass in the end zone.

Sophomore linebacker Sterling Lucas made six tackles, and sophomore defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy made three of his six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including two quarterback sacks.

With temperatures soaring into the mid-90s underneath a scorching sun at Carter-Finley Stadium, O’Brien was pleased with the way the players persevered and competed.

“We’ve got to get tougher,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got to get more physical, and we’ve got to get a little mentally tough. But this was a good day to start on it because this was a day you had to concentrate and really hang in there with the heat.”

Ken Tysiac