2010 NC State Preview – Defense
NC State LB Nate Irving
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - North Carolina State Wolfpack Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Unable to maintain the momentum from the end of 2008, the NC State defense collapsed last year, allowing at least 27 points in each of the last nine games. Picking up the pieces will not be easy. The Pack must replace seven starters, including the entire defensive line. Couple those departures with the youth and instability that'll define the secondary, and the defense will once again struggle to stop the pass. The silver lining exists within a corps of linebackers that welcomes back Nate Irving and will enjoy the coming-out party of Audie Cole. The unit is brimming with talent throughout the two-deep, but could be overworked as it attempts to support a secondary that can't cover and a defensive line hunting for pass rushers.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Nate Irving
Tackles: Audi Cole, 85
Sacks: Audi Cole, 4
Interceptions: Multiple, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Michael Lemon
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT J.R. Sweezy
Best pro prospect: Irving
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Irving, 2) Junior LB Audie Cole, 3) Sweezy
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, experience up front
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, lack of takeaways, red zone defense
Projected Starters: NC State's line troubles are not relegated to the offensive side of the ball. The defense is saddled with them as well. All four of last year's starters are gone, including all-star caliber stalwarts Willie Young and Alan-Michael Cash. Still, the Pack feels it hasn't enough talent to move forward. The openings mean senior DE Michael Lemon could be in line for a starring role. The former Georgia Bulldog showed flashes of upside despite arriving in Raleigh just two weeks before the start of the season. A key backup in all 12 games, he finished with 24 tackles, four tackles for loss, seven pressures, and five pass breakups. Even at 6-4 and 269 pounds, he slides well and has a knack for obstructing passing lanes.
On the other side, it's now or never for 6-2, 260-pound senior Audi Augustin. He came to State heavily decorated, but has just one career sack in 36 games. Mostly a backup and a special teams performer, he has too much raw physical ability and experience to not capitalize as a starter in his final year of eligibility.
On the inside, the coaching staff has quietly started to get excited about 6-5, 293-pound junior J.R. Sweezy, who's closing in on a full-time job. Even as a reserve, his potential was able to bubble to the surface, making 17 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, and 13 pressures. Lightly recruited out of high school, he's gotten bigger and stronger without losing the burst of energy that allows him to make stops for loss.
Bucking to join Sweezy on the interior is 6-3, 290-pound senior Natanu Mageo , entering his second season out of New Mexico Military College. More athletic than the average defensive tackle, he plays with good leverage and has excellent footwork. He averaged about a dozen plays a game in 2009, making eight tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and an interception.
Projected Top Reserves: After missing all of 2009 with a sports hernia, junior DE Jeff Rieskamp is back in action, a welcome sight for the coaching staff. It recalls the 6-3, 235-pound end in a linebacker's body applying pressure as a situational pass rusher. Two years ago, he started a pair of games and played in all 12, making 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.
When Northeastern dropped its football program, it opened the door for 6-4, 255-pound senior DE David Akinniyi to transfer to NC State for his final season of eligibility. A three-year starter with the Huskies, he accumulated 141 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks, and it'll be worth monitoring if those numbers can somehow translate to the ACC.
Like Rieskamp on the outside, 6-4, 303-pound junior DT Markus Kuhn is a former letterwinner making a return after sitting out all of 2009. Originally from Germany, he laid a nice foundation for his career as a sophomore, starting three games and making 23 tackles, two sacks, and eight pressures. He has the right blend of upper body strength and quickness to vie for a starting job.
The youth movement at defensive tackle is coming from sophomore Brian Slay , who lettered in his debut year out of high school, making six stops and a whole lot of good first impressions. A bit of a tweener when he arrived, he's bulked up to 6-3 and 290 pounds, yet still has the quickness to get into gaps and make penetration.
Watch Out For .... the competition to bring the best out of everyone through the summer. NC State may not have one great defensive lineman, but it does have a lot of good ones. The tackles and ends are going to lock horns over the next few months, with playing time hanging in the balance.
Strength: Veteran depth. The Pack may have lost four starters to graduation, but the cupboard isn't bare, especially with Rieskamp and Kuhn returning after sitting out 2009. Seven of the eight players projected to be in the two-deep rotation are upperclassmen, a nice luxury for the coaches.
Weakness: A sure-thing pass rusher. Young's absence will be particularly noticeable when opposing quarterbacks get all day to feast on that suspect secondary. He often commanded more than one blocker. It's doubtful that there's anyone on this roster capable of warranting similar respect.
Outlook: All things considered, NC State is poised to regroup better than expected after losing so many productive players to graduation. Lemon has a chance to make a name for himself and Sweezy is liable to create some all-star buzz in his first full year. That said, against better teams, the Pack will still have problems mounting a consistent rush and thwarting the run.
Projected Starters: Senior Nate Irving is making his way back from last summer's season-erasing car accident, great news for a defense that really needs it. Before getting injured, he was on the brink of an all-star campaign that'd make him a household name in ACC circles. And why not? Despite missing a third of his sophomore year, he still made 84 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and four interceptions. A 6-1, 235-pound playmaker, with outstanding range and natural instincts, he's moving to the middle after spending his career at weakside.
The upshot of Irving's absence is that it allowed junior Audie Cole to emerge into one of the young stars of the linebacker corps. The former high school quarterback flourished from the strongside, making a team-high 85 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and four sacks. Built more like a weakside end at 6-5 and 239 pounds, he's still learning the position, but has the motor and athleticism to build on a successful debut.
While it's not a sure-thing, 6-2, 234-pound junior Dwayne Maddox is a returning starter, with the inside track on the weakside job. In his most extensive action yet, he produced 54 tackles, four tackles for loss, and three pass breakups. The only rookie to start a game in 2008, he has good lateral quickness and can really pack a punch when he reaches his target.
Projected Top Reserves: Keeping the heat on Maddox at weakside will be 6-3, 224-pound sophomore Terrell Manning, who played more than most expected after Irving went down. While still a little raw, he has outstanding make-up speed and the athleticism to overcome some of his mistakes. After making 48 tackles and getting a better feel for the game, the ceiling remains very high for the former heralded recruit.
Irving has missed time in each of the last two seasons, so a veteran, such as 6-2, 238-pound junior Sterling Lucas, on the second team is a luxury. He's lettered in each of the last two seasons and started a pair of games in 2009, making 51 tackles and a couple of stops behind the line. Also a key member of the special teams coverage units, he'll go anywhere he's needed to make plays.
Watch Out For .... Irving to make up for lost time and begin racking up some national attention. If he can finally remain healthy for all 12 games, there's no telling what he can accomplish, especially with good talent surrounding him. He'll surprise a lot of people, who too him off their radar following the injury.
Strength: Range. Now that Irving has returned, the Wolfpack boasts a group of linebackers, who are all capable of making stops from sideline-to-sideline and behind the line of scrimmage. It's an active group of defenders that's a year older and itching at the opportunity to patrol every corner of the field.
Weakness: Pass defense. Irving will help the situation, but NC State will still get burned from time to time on passing plays in the flat and the middle of the field. Cole gets asked to cover quicker receivers on occasions, which can expose his modest straight-line speed. The secondary needs all the help it can get, putting pressure on the linebackers to raise the bar in coverage.
Outlook: Clearly the strength of the defense, new linebackers coach Jon Tenuta will ask a lot of this unit -- and it has the depth and talent to deliver. Irving is an All-ACC performer waiting to happen, and Cole will be even better in his second year as a starter. If Maddox and Manning push each other to higher ground, this group will make a ton of big plays in 2010.
Projected Starters: No unit on the roster will get more attention this spring than the defensive backfield, which has been shredded the past two seasons. The Pack used all different kinds of combinations and a lot of youth. Two of those kids are sophomores Brandon Bishop and Earl Wolff, safeties expected to build on busy debuts. The 6-2 and 210-pound Bishop started eight games at field safety, making 41 tackles and breaking up a pair of passes. A good all-around athlete, he needs to improve his cover skills and cut down on the times he's out of place.
Wolff earned four starts at boundary safety and contributed 51 tackles. Like Bishop, he has to continue improving when the ball is in the air, but does a terrific in run support and rarely misses tackles in the open field. He's bulked up to 6-0 and 201 pounds, playing with an aggressive and tenacious style that can intimidate opposing receivers.
Vying for considerable playing time at cornerback are two more sophomores, who were thrust into action in their first seasons. C.J. Wilson appeared in all 12 games, earning starts at both boundary and field corner. The 5-11, 179-pounder had 21 tackles and got better as the season progressed, but still has a lot to learn about playing the position.
As a true freshman, 5-11, 175-pound Rashard Smith moved into the lineup in just his second game and stayed there until an ankle injury shut him down for more than half the year. He had 12 tackles, a couple of tackles for loss, and a sack, showing the athleticism and speed that first landed him an offer. Between now and the opener, he needs to add more muscle and keep improving on his back-pedal.
Projected Top Reserves: Somehow, somewhere, 6-0, 188-pound junior Justin Byers is going to have a role in the rotation. The veteran of the defensive backfield, he sat out spring to continue rehabbing a surgically-repaired shoulder. He's started 10 games in his first two seasons with the program, and can play either safety or cornerback.
CB Jarvis Byrd is yet another sophomore to earn a letter in his first season of eligibility. Mostly a special teams player in September, injuries forced him into a starting role for three games before his own injury slowed him down at the end of the year. He has good size at 5-11 and 180 pounds, and enough speed to keep up with some of the league's faster receivers.
Watch Out For .... a steep learning curve. Youth can be exciting ...or, in the case of defensive backs, scary as heck for the coaching staff. Collectively, they ought to be better than last year, when so much was new, but the group still lacks leadership and a veteran to anchor the pass defense.
Strength: Potential. That's about all that the Wolfpack secondary can cling to right now. The team used a bunch of young players in 2009, which, in theory, should begin to pay dividends with more consistent play this fall.
Weakness: Coverage skills. The defense simply allows too many big plays through the air, yielding 20 touchdown passes and a league-high 62.6% of passes to be completed. Even worse, it only picked off a league-low eight passes, failing to capitalize on being thrown on so frequently.
Outlook: There's just no easy solution for a defensive backfield that's painfully young and lacking a genuine stopper. Assistant Mike Reed will spend the offseason trying to coach up a collection of kids who hold the fate of the defense in their hands. Don't expect too much support from a defensive line that was gutted by graduation.
Projected Starters: First the good news. The Wolpack return Josh Czajkowski, one of the most accurate placekickers in school history. While not a boomer, he's dead-on from inside 50 yards, nailing 26-of-31 career field goal attempts and all but one of 78 extra point attempts. He also flashed a little versatility in the offseason, designing the cover of the team's 2010 spring media guide.
The bad news is that the Pack is in dire need of a punter. Jeff Ruiz wasn't very good in his only season of action, leaving redshirt freshman Chris Ward to try and clean up the mess. He showed good pop and hang time playing high school in Georgia, but now he has to step up and deliver at a much higher level. Oh, he also has to make it back from suspension, which is not a certainty.
With Clem Johnson out of eligibility, junior T.J. Graham is likely to handle both kickoff and punt returns. The school's single-season record-holder for kick return yards in a season, he has a career average of 25 yards on kickoffs and just under 10 yards on punts.
Watch Out For… Ward's development as the new punter. He basically has no competition at a sneaky important spot on the Wolfpack. Considering the problems on defense, this team desperately needs someone who can get the team out of trouble and provide a little help with field position.
Strength: Czajkowski. Although he doesn't get a ton of opportunities because of the Pack's red zone success, he's golden when his number is called. In two years, he's missed just six kicks of any kind, a level of consistency that the staff treasures.
Weakness: Kickoffs. NC State's opponents began drives at the 36-yard line a year ago. This defense already has enough problems without having to consistently contend with a short field.
Outlook: Czajkowski has an accurate leg and Graham can be very dangerous in the return game. After those two, however, the Pack has plenty of work to do in the offseason. Most pressing is the development of a capable punter, which the program hasn't harbored for years.
- 2010 NC State Preview |
NC State Offense
2010 NC State Defense |
NC State Depth Chart
- NC State Previews