‘They are all great players.’ Who will be NC State’s next quarterback?

With Jacoby Brissett and Ryan Finley in place for five of his first six years at N.C. State, Dave Doeren hasn’t had to answer many preseason questions about his starting quarterback.

That was one of the many differences this year for Doeren and the Wolfpack at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte on Wednesday.

N.C. State, coming off of back-to-back 9-4 seasons, has to break in at least a half of a dozen new starters on offense and will have a new playcaller for the 2019 season.

Third-year sophomore Matt McKay exited spring practice with a leg up in the race to replace Finley, a three-year starter, but freshman Devin Leary and sophomore Bailey Hockman will be given a chance to win the job in August.

Doeren hasn’t changed how he answers questions about the quarterback race. McKay, Leary and Hockman will be given a chance to compete and the staff will track their statistics in practice and scrimmages before deciding collectively on a starter.

“I’d be selling them short not to give them that opportunity, you know?” Doeren said. “Once we see where it’s at, obviously Matt has been here the longest, has taken the most reps. So he has that value for him. But I’m really excited to see these guys compete. I think that’s what they signed up to do when they came here. We need to give them that opportunity.”

Finley started every game from the start of the 2016 season through last season. He was All-ACC in 2018 with 3,928 passing yards and 25 touchdowns.

A fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, Finley is off to the NFL. McKay is the only quarterback on the roster with college experience and he played sparingly as Finley’s backup last season.

McKay has shown flashes of his running ability in his limited playing time but impressed the coaches in spring practice with his leadership.

Leary, a highly touted recruit out of New Jersey last year, has the strongest arm of the group but redshirted last season. Doeren said that Leary is “one of the best young passers, just true arm strength, that I’ve been around.”

Hockman began his career at Florida State before he transferred to a junior college. He enrolled at N.C. State in January and went through spring practice.

Doeren spoke in generalities about the quarterback group on Wednesday but he wasn’t being evasive.

“I’m not trying to hide anything,” Doeren said. “I mean, I just think you’re talking about a transfer (who enrolled) in January, a kid that redshirted last year, a kid that’s in his third year. There’s a lot of growth that’s going to happen from the end of the spring to the beginning of this fall.”

Following the lead of Doeren, junior tackle Justin Witt was vague in talking about the quarterbacks and was careful to praise all three.

“I think they are all great players,” Witt said.

Witt was going to repeat his general response to a similar question about the quarterbacks when he was pressed to go into detail about each player and how they performed during the player-run summer workouts.

“Alright, you want something new?” Witt said. “I feel like they are all going to be able to play for us. There’s no starter right now. We probably won’t know until the first game, like you guys.”

Players will report for training camp on Aug. 1 and then open practice the next day. That’s when the process will continue for Doeren and new quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper to evaluate the competition.

How each player performs in different practice and scrimmage situations will be charted and analyzed.

“You accumulate data over time, see who has the lead,” Doeren said. “Sometimes it’s really telling. Sometimes it isn’t. So I wish I could give you a deadline. I don’t know it. It’s on the players to show me who it is, to be honest.”

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Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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