Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
When NC State's coaches first saw the pictures of linebacker Nate Irving's car following his recent accident, the general consensus was it's a blessing he's even alive.
Now that Irving is out of the hospital, and coaches are on vacation this week, the initial shock of it has been somewhat absorbed. When they get back, though, they'll have to do what they've grown all too accustomed to doing -- move on.
Irving's return hasn't been determined, but considering the severity of the one-car accident -- a fractured leg and a collapsed lung -- it would be hard to imagine he'll be back anytime soon. If it were up to Irving, he'd have been back on the field by now. He's hungry for the NFL, and returned for his redshirt junior season to better prepare himself for it. Irving was having a great summer and buying into the workouts, and poised for a breakout season.
But he might not have that chance now.
Irving would be tough to replace because he's more than just a hard hitter. He's also got a nose for the ball, and set a record for interceptions by a linebacker with four. He's got that God-given ability, which is something you can't just replace.
The good news for the Pack is that Irving's backup in 2008, Dwayne Maddox, played 308 snaps last year when Irving was injured. Irving injured his leg against East Carolina and then missed the next two games. He hurt his ankle just 16 snaps into the Florida State game and missed the following weekend at Maryland.
Maddox was the only true freshman to start on defense last year, and he did so four times. He didn't play in four of the last five games of the season when Irving was healthy and moved to strongside linebacker this spring. Terrell Manning, Sterling Lucas and Audi Cole will help give the position some depth. Without Irving, the linebackers will look a lot younger.
Possibly more of a concern is the experience in the secondary. With the transfer of Dominique Ellis, who could have been a potential starter at the boundary corner, the depth took a hit. If Javon Walker, who missed his second spring after sitting out 2008 with a knee injury, comes back strong at safety and they move Justin Byers around, it might help. The staff feels good about the talent, but experience remains a question.
The best-case scenario would probably be for Irving to make a comeback at some point in the season. If not, Maddox will have to take over, which he has proven capable of. Unfortunately for NC State, they've already had to handle this situation.