RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina State is only a few workouts into the training camp that will reshape the Wolfpack under new coach Dave Doeren.
That leaves N.C. State with less than a month to figure out who is the starting quarterback leading a no-huddle offense and adjust to the faster tempo that Doeren wants in everything his players do.
"I feel like there's a lot of bright eyes. There's good energy," Doeren said Sunday during the team's preseason media day. "We haven't had a lot of negatives other than how tired we get them at practice, but I think that's pretty universal."
Doeren guided Northern Illinois to a BCS bowl last season before taking over for Tom O'Brien, who was fired after his program seemed stuck in neutral for much of his six seasons. Last year's team finished 7-6 after starting the season with hopes of contending for an Atlantic Coast Conference title.
The most visible change under Doeren is the installation of a no-huddle offense that the coach said blended elements from Wisconsin — where Doeren had worked as an assistant before taking over at NIU — and Oregon. But the coaching staff has also pushed both sides of the ball to work at a faster tempo.
Spring practices offered the first taste of those changes for the players. Now, with the Aug. 31 opener against Louisiana Tech less than four weeks away, it's time for them to show what they've learned as the depth chart takes shape.
"The spring helped a lot because coming into the fall camp, we knew what the expectations were from our coaches," receiver Rashard Smith said. "We're coming out and working every day. We know what the coaches expect from us and we're going to set a high standard for our team."
The most pressing question is who will take the snap in Doeren's first game in Raleigh. Colorado State junior transfer Pete Thomas appeared to hold an edge over sophomore Manny Stocker following spring workouts, but N.C. State has added two freshmen and graduate transfer Brandon Mitchell from Arkansas — who played receiver for the Razorbacks last year.
Doeren said he'd keep the competition open as long as it takes to find his starter.
"I think when you know, you know," he said. "It's their job to show me."
Thomas said the quarterbacks know the coaching staff is watching closely on everything they do through preseason camp.
"You don't win it every day. You've really got to win it with every rep," Thomas said. "Coaches are watching every single thing you do. Every little step, every little throw, even if it's just warming up — every route on air, every meeting you're in and every question you're asked. They're evaluating everything."
To listen to the players, Doeren has made it easy for them to embrace the changes. He's preached to them about appreciating the opportunity to play major college football. He's tried to keep things fun amid all the work, including holding a mud-sliding contest — won by defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen — after a cold and rainy practice back in the spring.
"He basically came in and stated that he wanted to win the ACC championship, so that's all we've been talking about over the course of the offseason," linebacker M.J. Salahuddin said. "He's a worker. That's what I like about him. He never stops working. That's what he expects from his players. That's what we're going to give him in return. He works for us and we work for him."