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How much depth does NC State have left? Understanding the Wolfpack’s injury situation

·7 min read

Before moving on — knock on wood — grab a four-leaf clover or a rabbit’s foot.

If being superstitious is an issue, those steps were necessary.

It’s no secret the injury bug is having a buffet at the Murphy Center. Two more starters — Isaiah Moore, Chandler Zavala — are done for the year, N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren announced Monday. That’s five starters total, four on defense, gone.

Injuries are part of football, and N.C. State has adopted the next-man-up mentality. But the biggest strength coming into the season for the Wolfpack, depth, is being tested.

“I think the biggest toll that we’re having now is that we had all this depth, that depth is no longer there,” Doeren said. “You’re not backed up. We were backed up like seniors with juniors, now it’s juniors with freshmen. It’s hard to have senior, junior, sophomore and freshman at every position group. We just don’t have that.”

Clearly, the defense has taken a bigger hit than the offense, but the loss of Zavala will require some shuffling with the offensive line.

Derrick Eason started the last two games in place of Zavala. Before Zavala went down, Eason was an extra lineman who would come in to give starters a break. More of that will now fall on Tim McKay.

“We kind of had a pair and a spare, I guess you would say, that was keeping each other fresh,” Doeren said. “We no longer have that ability. It hurts your depth more than anything. It’s forcing Dylan McMahon and Derrick Eason to play full games instead of maybe 60% of a game.”

On defense, no group has been hit harder than the linebackers, now down two starters. Freshman Devon Betty, who replaced Moore, is listed as the starter versus Louisville, with true freshman Jordan Poole as the backup. Poole, a four-star recruit, and the No. 2 player in State’s class of 2021, made his first appearance of the season versus Miami on special teams.

Poole and classmate Caden Fordham are both on the two-deep at linebacker. They are two of the four true freshmen listed on the two-deep. Doeren has been preaching preparedness since linebacker Payton Wilson and defensive back Cyrus Fagan both went down after Week 2 of the season.

“One thing we do at N.C. State is we always prepare like we are starters,” center Grant Gibson said. “That’s something we try to tell everyone, like, ‘listen you are one play away from being on the field.’ That’s something we all understand.”

Gibson would know. His backup at the start of the season, freshman Lyndon Cooper, had surgery, which has shifted who’ll take snaps if (knock on wood) if Gibson were to go down.

“Everybody gets prepped to go out there and play,” Gibson said. “We believe in the guys who are up next and believe they are going to do a great job for us.”

Here’s a look at which position groups still have some depth, and which ones are completely tapped out.



Shyheim Battle and Joshua Pierre-Louis went down briefly versus Miami, but no major injuries were reported.

Cornerback Cecil Powell was injured in training camp and hasn’t played this season, so he and Fagan have been the biggest losses. The emergence of safety Devan Boykin and cornerback Aydan White has actually made the secondary deeper.

The two most experienced players in that position group — Chris Ingram, Teshaun Smith — have only played a combined 115 snaps this season as both return from injuries. Khalid Martin and Rakeim Asford are a pair of safeties who started one game each a year ago.

Battle, White and Derrek Pitts have rotated at cornerback, but at least if something were to happen, there’s experience, with maybe some rust, in Ingram and Smith.

Running backs

The good thing about having Ricky Person Jr. and Zonovan Knight is they are able to keep each other fresh. Neither back is getting a bulk of the carries this season and just four total carries separate them (90 for Knight, 86 for Person). In limited touches, Jordan Houston has shown plenty of ability (4.4 ypc).

Delbert Mimms, Demarcus Jones and true freshman Demie Sumo are all talented guys, waiting in the wings if needed.


It says a lot about the depth when the fastest player on the team (Anthony Smith) and the guy who has played in the second-most games out of everyone on the roster (C.J. Riley) has a hard time getting on the field.

Emekie Emezie, Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter are the starters. Porter Rooks and Keyon Lesane are getting more snaps each game and Doeren is trying to find ways to get Smith more involved.

“He’s the fastest guy on our team,” Doeren said. “We’ve tried it throughout the year. He’s still learning how to adjust to the ball and track the football down the field. It’s nice to have a guy that runs 22 miles per hour in practice every day. To have a guy like that catching the ball, it helps you stretch the field.”



The defensive line, despite losing C.J. Clark earlier this year, is one group that’s benefitting from getting guys back from injuries.

Defensive ends Terrell Dawkins and Ibrahim Kante have 18 career starts between them. Each player is slowly working back into regular form and into the rotation. Davin Vann has been a pleasant surprise, a guy who can play inside or outside. Defensive tackle Joshua Harris has been able to help this season after being a goal-line package specialist a year ago.



Zavala going down hurts, but Eason and McKay have proven to be survivable so far this season. McKay missed most of last season with an injury and Eason was like an extra starter anyway before being thrust into the lineup.

“To see those two guys go out there and play well,” Gibson said. “I’m glad they are getting their shine.”

But it gets shaky beyond the starting five and McKay. Tyrone Riley, who returned for a sixth year, has been out. Cooper going out means McMahon is the backup center and the next man who can rotate across the front is sophomore Anthony Belton, who was in for one snap in the opener versus USF and hasn’t played since. The other six offensive linemen available are all unproven freshmen.


N.C. State fans hope the only reason they see Ben Finley or Aaron McLaughlin the rest of the way is in blowouts. Finley has attempted only nine passes this season, while McLaughlin only handed the ball off in his three plays versus Furman. Better hope things stay that way. Devin Leary has taken care of the ball and will be needed down the stretch as the offense will need to pick up the slack thanks to four starters out on defense.



Losing two All-ACC caliber players is hard for any team to recover from.

Without Wilson and Moore, two freshmen will be asked to play more. Teammates think Betty will be up to the challenge.

“He’s a hard worker,” Person said. “Betty is taking in all the information from Zay (Isaiah Moore). Betty is going to be ready to play. He wants to help his team win and I love that about him.”

Jaylon Scott has played well in place of Payton Wilson and Vi Jones has plenty of experience. N.C. State, though, is feeling the effects of C.J. Hart (transfer) and Seth Williams (left team) not being in the two-deep this season.

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