GREENSBORO — Linebacker Nate Irving's key doctor appointment isn't scheduled until mid-August, but the N.C. State coaching staff has had to develop a contingency plan for his absence.
Coach Tom O'Brien revealed on Monday that Irving's broken leg was a compound fracture, and that his collapsed lung came as a result of being pierced by a broken rib in a car crash in late June. These are serious injuries that will take time to overcome, even though O'Brien has deemed Irving's football status as "out indefinitely" until he knows the results of the August appointment.
"He's lucky to be alive," O'Brien said.
O'Brien also discussed for the first time Monday the Wolfpack's plan at linebacker during Irving's absence. N.C. State plans to give sophomore Dwayne Maddox the first shot to replace Irving at the boundary linebacker position.
Maddox replaced Irving last season, when he missed about a quarter of the season because of various injuries. Maddox struggled as a starter, but usually made good reads and positioned himself well.
He just lacked the strength and confidence as a freshman to finish plays against stronger players. N.C. State defensive coordinator Mike Archer said Maddox has improved.
"This becomes Dwayne Maddox's time," Archer said. "Because everybody wants to say this and that. Dwayne played pretty well for us last year as a freshman. And he played pretty well in the spring. You could see him making strides."
If Maddox can handle the job, that will allow returning starter Ray Michel to stay at middle linebacker. Sophomore Audie Cole - who has received rave reviews from the staff for his play during the spring - will replace 2008 senior Robbie Leonard at field linebacker.
If Maddox struggles, N.C. State has other options. Sophomore Sterling Lucas, who played well as Michel's backup last season, could start and allow Michel to move to Irving's spot. Promising redshirt freshman Terrell Manning could play at field linebacker and allow Cole to be moved.
The good thing for the Wolfpack is that it has developed enough depth to have decent options in the event that Irving is out for an extended period. But Irving still will be one of the best defensive players in the ACC whenever he is healthy.
He will be missed if he can't play.
"Something good is going to happen to him," O'Brien said. "He had a bunch of bad luck last year with the high ankle sprain. And now this thing. So whenever he gets back, whether it's this year or next year, he's going to be a great player. Something good is going to happen to him."