Defensive line primed to lead Pack past Gamecocks
Posted September 2
NC State is amidst a conversation Dave Doeren's team usually isn't a part of the first Saturday of the season: the Wolfpack plays in the nationally-televised, annual Belk College Kickoff against an SEC opponent. It's a big way to start the season, and Raleigh's home football team is immediately relevant.
After opening against a Conference USA team, two Sun Belt opponents and an FCS foe, Doeren's fifth season-opener lines up with the talent and veteran status of his roster in a way that can't be planned. He understandably says this is the best time for the Pack to take on its biggest season opener.
The biggest liability against the South Carolina team, though, would be if the Wolfpack fails to limit the Gamecocks' passing game. State's level of pass defense last season combined with the fact that the only returning starting DB is out for the game with injury doesn't bode necessarily well.
But NC State's strength is without a doubt in its four-man front. The defensive line, which spent the offseason receiving praise, accolades and many labels, including the word "best," in national conversations, is poised to lead its team to a 1-0 start.
The four seniors returned to play for one another and their team for exactly this reason.
"This team, we know what we can do,” AP preseason All-American Bradley Chubb said. “We’re just all out here to prove what we can do to the world. In the past, I feel like there was some doubt. But now I feel like there’s no doubt.”
To understand how the guys became what they're advertised to be (individually as a whole), to know who they are and how they work together.
Chubb is the vocal leader of the group. The 6'4", 275-pound end sets the tone for fellow end Kentavius Street and tackles BJ Hill and Justin Jones.
First-year defensive line coach Kevin Patrick explains their individual strengths simply: Street is strong, Jones is explosive and Hill is unwavering in his consistency. Chubb is "out of this world."
The qualities described in layman's terms may be easy to see, but the foursome and their new line coach adjusted through a slight language barrier when Patrick replaced Ryan Nielson in the offseason.
"In the past, they’ve called it one thing and I’ve adjusted to it," Patrick, or 'KP,' said. "(There are) some things that I’ve said that they’ve bought into."
"The way they give information is different," Jones said.
The slight verbiage discrepancies -- like the way Patrick refers to a lineman's responsibilities as a primary gap and a secondary gap versus the seniors calling the splits between the o-line that they're responsible for their gap-and-a-half -- or the difference in calling the move to break an offensive lineman's hold on a block a "slap-club-chop" versus a "dent club" -- were the biggest teaching point for Patrick. In Raleigh, this is something he knows is rare.
"We all get along and we’ve got backups that could start for us too, that’s why we’re so good up front," Hill said.
Jones views taking double teams as his job. "That’s what I signed up for. If I do my job, I know they’re going to do their job, and the plays are going to get made," he said. "It makes my job a lot easier, it makes me want to do even more.”
There's no nonsense in the statement, but Jones is just as likely to joke around and fill his other self-proclaimed responsibility of giving good vibes.
"The heart starts with Chubb," Jones said. "I feed off him, I guess moods are contagious."
Chubb's a leader as much on the field in his play as he is off, needless to say. While he laid on his side to pose for a picture behind interviews of his peers, during camp, he also demanded a social media ban of the unit.
“My guys, we deleted all of our social media so we can’t read what everybody’s saying about us,” he said. “You see it and it’s definitely motivation. But you try not to lean on it too much, that’s when you get complacent. Complacent is not allowed – not in our room or even on our team.”
Street -- who can be a quiet worker, too -- slightly misunderstood the rules, but that's another story.
Patrick describing Hill as consistent before anything else is a testament to the quiet senior. He was co-recipient of the team’s Bo Rein Award for a vital contribution in an unsung role, and he surely takes pride in "doing stuff right all the time." Hill is the only one of the four who doesn't have Georgia roots, which is something that Street says the unit used to bond when they first arrived in Raleigh.
“We’re just brothers and we just get along so good," Hill said.
It's a simple statement, but it's one Doeren echoes when he explains how his team got so lucky as to have all four seniors return.
“Those four guys that are seniors truly love each other, it’s different than anything I’ve seen," he said. "They wanted to come back for their senior year for a variety of reasons, but I guarantee the main one was that they wanted to be together one more year. They know once they go to the league, it’s going to be over.
"That’s the difference – that love they have – it carries onto the field.”
The point is clear: every player has a role and is bought into making this unit the best of its kind. That 2005 line, which produced three first-round NFL Draft picks, is the bar to beat.
"Just to see that example that was set, we just want to either meet it or surpass it," Chubb said. "Just to see how great they were, we just want to be one of the best defensive lines.”
There's a simpler goal, too, which can be met at least once against South Carolina. Jones' motivation for the line is a promise that shows NC State's most veteran unit puts the focus where it should be.
"We just want to win, to be honest."