2013 NC State Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - North Carolina State Wolfpack Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Head coach Dave Doeren hired long-time veteran coordinator Dave Huxtable to guide a defense undergoing a transition in 2013. Yeah, the base D remains a 4-3, but the terminology is naturally changing, and last season's top four Pack tacklers have exhausted their eligibility. Most of NC State's talent is going to be concentrated along the D-line, where ends Art Norman and Darryl Cato-Bishop and tackles T.Y. McGill and Thomas Neal have all shown a penchant for busting gaps and generating heat. They'll need to do that plenty this fall in order to support a suspect back seven. The linebackers do get a boost from the return of D.J. Green, who was suspended for all of 2012. And senior CB Dontae Johnson appears capable of using his finale as a launching pad to the NFL. Still, unless the front wall can completely controls the tempo of games, the Pack will have problems slowing down the ACC's more accomplished offenses.
Star of the defense: Junior DT T.Y. McGill
Tackles: Dontae Johnson, 80
Sacks: Darryl Cato-Bishop, Art Norman, 5.5
Interceptions: Juston Burris, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Dontae Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Juston Burris
Best pro prospect: McGill
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McGill, 2) Senior DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, 3) Johnson
Strength of the defense: The D-line, pressuring the pocket, potential at corner, creating turnovers
Weakness of the defense: Linebackers, rebuilt pass defense, run defense, big plays through the air
Cautious optimism surrounds a D-line that didn't lose a whole lot of contributors to graduation last year. Spearheading the group will be senior DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, an honorable mention All-ACC pick in 2012. The biggest of the team's ends at 6-3 and 266 pounds, he'll not only stuff the run, but also occasionally collapse the pocket. Cato-Bishop registered 10.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and a Pack-high 6.5 sacks to go along with 36 tackles. If he can build on his junior year, he's going to get a chance to continuing playing at the next level in 2014.
Competing for playing time with Cato-Bishop is 6-3, 252-pound sophomore Mike Rose, who has not backed down from his elders. The one-time safety and outside linebacker has packed on the weight in Raleigh, yet might be a better all-around athlete than the incumbent at the position.
The smaller, faster complement to Cato-Bishop on the outside will be junior Art Norman. At 6-0 and 243 pounds, he's built more like a linebacker than an end, allowing him to get off the snap—and around the opposing tackle—in a hurry. As a situational rush end behind Brian Slay, he delivered 33 tackles, eight stops for loss, 5.5 sacks and more quarterback pressures than any other member of the Pack D. With an expanded role this fall, there's hope that Norman will emerge as a three-down player and a scary presence with which State's opponents will have to contend.
Norman must still shake free from the challenge of 6-1, 263-pound senior Forrest West whose size and strength are a better fit up front on running downs. The two-time letterwinner at Colorado made his NC State debut last season, but was limited by an ankle injury to just six games and four stops. In his finale in Boulder, he finished the season strong, making 8.5 stops for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Without a lot of warning, DT T.Y. McGill impressed a lot of folks, both in and out of the program, in 2012. He entered the year with minimal experience, yet started 11 games and swiftly became a fixture up front for the Wolfpack. Quick off the snap for a 6-1, 293-pounder, he was in on 39 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss and five sacks, impressive numbers for a young interior lineman. If McGill can improve his conditioning and his technique, he's capable of taking a big step forward as a junior.
Next to McGill at the nose will be 6-1, 312-pound junior Thomas Teal, yet another surprise performer along the D-line a year ago. Powerful, blocky and unexpectedly nimble, the 12-game starter collected 37 tackles, 10 stops for minus yards and 2.5 sacks. For such a thick player, he slides nicely and carries his weight rather well.
Backing up Teal will be one of the line's more experienced reserves, 6-2, 301-pound senior A.J. Ferguson. He's played in 21 career games, notching a career-high 11 tackles and four quarterback pressures in 2012.
Watch Out For .... this unit and the linemen comprising it to start peeling away some anonymity in the fall. The ends and tackles made a slew of plays in 2012, yet only Cato-Bishop received tepid support from All-ACC voters. It's going to be a lot harder to ignore these guys in 2013, especially if they continue to hold meetings in opposing backfields.
Strength: Generating pressure. The Wolfpack is going to bring the heat from all angles again this fall. The D-line is a deep and battle-tested group that has speed on the outside and the quickness to shoot the gap from the interior. After ranking 27th nationally in sacks in 2012, State expects to be every bit as feisty this fall.
Weakness: Run-stuffing. The Pack line is at its best when it can pin its ears back, as opposed to being run directly at. The group didn't do nearly enough last season to prevent the opposition form averaging more than four yards a carry on the ground. It has to do a better job of keeping plays from reaching a suspect set of linebackers.
Outlook: The line will easily be NC State's most productive unit in 2013. The attacking quartet is vastly underrated outside of Raleigh, consistently getting off their blocks and into the backfield in a hurry. Sure, the Pack needs to improve against the run, but this talented ensemble of athletes is built for pressure, doing their best work on passing downs.
The Wolfpack is working on replacing two of last year's best linebackers, graduating Sterling Lucas and Rickey Dowdy, who is now enrolled at Cumberland University in Tennessee. There's cautious optimism that senior D.J. Green can become an anchor from strongside. The athletic 6-4, 228-pounder was suspended for 2012 by the NCAA for taking a banned supplement. But he's returned with a sense of purpose, a rangy defender with the instincts to build a bridge to 2011, when he started seven games.
Providing veteran reps behind Green at strongside will be 6-4, 215-pound junior Rodman Noel. Like Green, Noel has the long and lean frame needed to cover ground as a run stopper and a pass defender. He started five games last year, finishing with 38 tackles, seven behind the line.
Junior Brandon Pittman has taken control of the opening at weakside. At 6-2 and 222 pounds, he lacks prototypical size to stand up bigger backs in the hole, but his athleticism can be employed in numerous different ways. He started twice in 2012, and contributed 43 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss, two sacks and five quarterback pressures.
Rounding out the starting trio will be sophomore M.J. Salahuddin, one of the most pleasant surprises of the offseason so far. He plays the game with passion and intensity on every down, which has not been lost on the coaching staff. The 6-2, 220-pound former high school safety played on special teams in 2012, overcoming his modest size by playing with good angles and fundamentals. He'll be backed up by 6-1, 230-pound senior Zach Gentry, the one-time walk-on with 38 games of experience.
Watch Out For .... rookie Jonathan Alston to play right away. Assuming the offense doesn't wind up using him at wide receiver, where he's less needed in 2013, he could be an instant impact performer on D. The Pack didn't beat out South Carolina to have the 6-3, 200-pound athlete spend his first year looking on from the sidelines.
Strength: Big-play athletes. The Wolfpack rarely has any problem getting quality athletes to play linebacker, and this campaign figures to be no different. NC State defenders should be able to cover a large chunk of the field in the shortest possible time, giving the coaching staff a lot of options on blitzes and pass defense.
Weakness: Girth. The linebackers are long and quick. Or thin and vulnerable to physical ground games, depending on the viewpoint. State can track the ball well, but when it's not in pursuit, it's prone to getting bowled over by north-south backs and roaming offensive linemen.
Outlook: Boy, did this unit need Dowdy in 2013 or what? Yeah, it would still be average, but not quite as mediocre as it is today. The addition of Green is a big plus, assuming he recaptures his 2011 form. However, Pittman is not an ideal run stopper, and Salahuddin will be undergoing on-the-job training. To the best of its ability, the D-line will need to keep opposing backs from getting to the second level of the defense.
NC State must move forward after losing three All-ACC performers from a secondary that failed to live up to expectations in 2012. The lone returning starter, senior CB Dontae Johnson is being asked to become the leader of the defensive backfield. The converted safety played well in his debut at cornerback, making 80 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups. And he kept on improving in the spring. At 6-2 and 195 pounds, Johnson has excellent size to go along with the aggressive mindset to separate receivers from the ball.
The staff is excited about the potential of the other starting corner, 6-1, 203-pound sophomore Juston Burris who played very well in his first season of action. He started five games, collecting 43 stops, three interceptions and a team-high eight pass breakups. Obviously, he still has plenty top learn, but if last year was any indication of his future, he could have quarterbacks avoiding him this fall.
If perseverance was a smell, senior FS Jarvis Byrd would be reeking of it these days. The tough, no-quit 5-11, 183-pound has battled though perennial injuries to have this opportunity to start in 2013. He only played in four games last season, his first action in three years, but he now believes he's finally 100% for the first time since arriving from Pahokee, Fla.
The youngest member of the starting unit, sophomore Hakim Jones is poised to handle string safety this fall. A terrific all-around athlete, packaged in a long 6-2, 198-pound frame, he got a taste of collection by appearing in 13 games and making 10 stops last season. While he covers a lot of ground, he'll need to prove he can deliver upon reaching his destination.
While just a redshirt freshman, 5-11, 188-pound Niles Clark convinced the staff that belongs in the cornerback rotation this season. He consistently showed a penchant for blanketing older receivers in the spring, looking as if he's ready for ACC competition. Backup SS Tim Buckley enters his second season in Raleigh after transferring from Penn State just prior to the start of 2012. He played in 11 games, mostly on special teams, and failed to make a tackle.
Watch Out For .... Johnson to begin attracting the attention of NFL scouts. He's big, physical and experienced. Is he a sure-fire corner at the next level? Maybe not. But if he proved capable of cutting off a chunk of the field in 2013, the senior will still be playing in 2014.
Strength: Big defensive backs. The former staff coveted well-sized defensive backs, and now the current staff is reaping the benefits. It'll continue to be difficult to beat this group over the top since the cornerbacks and the starting strong safety all stand at least 6-1.
Weakness: Yielding up the big play. This is an ongoing problem that drew the last regime nuts. Despite housing more talent than is on hand for 2013, NC State gave up at least 12.3 yards per completion the last two seasons to No. 8 in the ACC in 2012 and again last fall. The Pack has to figure out how to tighten up in coverage with three new starters.
Outlook: David Amerson was drafted by the Washington Redskins. The Philadelphia Eagles took Earl Wolff. Brandan Bishop signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings. State can't lose three NFL wannabes without suffering a major decline on the last line of defense. Johnson and Burris might surprise at cornerback, but the Wolfpack has too many cracks in the secondary not to be very vulnerable through the air in 2013.
Yeah, both kicking specialists return, but it's hardly cause for a sigh of relief. Junior PK Niklas Sade has maintained his lead on sophomore Ryan Stevens, despite clicking on just 13-of-23 field goal attempts. Worse yet, he was only 8-of-18 beyond 30 yards, generating an uneasy feeling whenever he left the sidelines.
P Wil Baumann has been a disappointment since being heavily recruited coming out of high school. Although he looks the part at 6-6 and 190 pounds, he lacks consistency, and has averaged only 38.3 yards an attempt over his first two seasons.
Senior Rashard Smith is expected to pull double-duty as both a punt and kickoff returner this fall. The shifty 5-9, 175-pounder averaged 9.3 yards on punts, taking one all the way back from 73 yards out.
Watch Out For… Baumann to add a little more distance to his boots. He made progress in 2012, which ought to become a trend in 2013. He's long and lean, with just enough leg whip to drive his foot into the ball.
Strength: Smith. Tobais Palmer will be tough to replace on kick returns, but Smith has the athleticism get the job done. He was dangerous on punts a year ago, flashing the open-field wiggle and elusiveness to make the first man downfield miss.
Weakness: Erratic legs. Sade doesn't kick straight, and Baumann doesn't kick with enough punch. Together, the pair gives the coaching staff an unsettled stomach, while providing no better than sporadic support for the offense and defense.
Outlook: The special teams unit will be no better than average unless Sade and Baumann take a quantum leap from their first two years on the job. Smith will provide an occasional spark, but the inconsistent legs and spotty coverage teams ensure the Pack will be middling again in 2013.
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