Forgive NC State receiver Tobais Palmer if he has heard this story line before.
The receivers for the Wolfpack -- a question mark, right?
"From last year to this year, it's always been a question about the receivers, how are we going to react?" Palmer said in a recent phone interview. "We're always going to be under the gun. But last year, we came out and made plays. It’s motivation from last year to do the same thing this year. I feel as though we're going to be fine. We're going to grow from Tennessee onto the very last game, and be a heck of a group to stop."
Going into last season, the Wolfpack had to replace leading receivers Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, along with Darrell Davis. They did it with outstanding return man T.J. Graham, who led the team with 757 yards and seven touchdowns. They did it with Jay Smith, who had 40 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. They did it with Palmer, who was second on the team with 496 yards receiving.
But now Graham and Smith are gone, along with Steven Howard. Palmer, headed into his senior season, is now the leader of the receiving group. Much more will be expected of him, Quintin Payton and converted cornerback Rashard Smith, especially with Bryan Underwood sidelined because of an injury.
What should help this group is having a veteran quarterback in Mike Glennon returning. The receivers spent extra time working with Glennon during the summer in order to build a good chemistry.
"Mike is a good quarterback, everybody knows it," Smith said. "So we went out and worked on our timing, making sure we understand when should we look for the ball, little small things like that to help us. Plus, with a veteran quarterback who knows the whole playbook, if we don’t know what to do, we can turn to Mike and he can help us. He’s our key leader. He motivates everybody, and makes everybody stay on top of each other."
Though Smith played a little bit of receiver last season, he officially made the full-time transition during the spring. He had never played the position before, but he has taken his knowledge of playing defensive back and quarterback in high school to playing receiver. He hopes that helps make up for his lack of game experience. Smith has one career catch.
"Just being able to make plays and catch the ball, the coaches feel I may be one of the best athletes on the team and they feel I can make explosive plays," Smith said. "I am not the biggest receiver in the country, but we have great coaches who help us."
Palmer also had to change positions when he arrived at NC State from junior college a few years ago, moving from running back to receiver -- a position he had never previously played. He was not thrilled with the news, but worked as hard as he could to get better. To that end, he put in endless hours this summer to improve his route running and endurance.
Now, after being relatively new to the position, he is being looked to lead this group into the season.
“People haven't seen the best things come out of me yet,” Palmer said. “Last year, I didn't get off to a good start because I was still trying to get a grasp of the offense. This year, I have a lot of fire built up inside of me. Now that I have my opportunity, I'm going to run with it.”
Only three players have gained more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season at NC State. Jerricho Cotchery was the last to get there in 2003. But Palmer has high hopes for himself, and the Wolfpack this season.
"I want to double my stats from last year," Palmer said."This year, I owe to myself, my teammates to everybody at this university, the fans, the people who have been behind us, that didn't think we could amount to anything, I feel like I want to double all my stats and go all out. I'll be hard on myself, which makes me work harder at what I want to do."