Wolfpack defense ready behind experience, depth
Posted August 17, 2014
Coming off their worst football season since 2006, NC State had few positive takeaways from 2013.One area that showed strong play throughout the season was the Wolfpack’s defense.
The defensive unit showed growth as the season wore on, even though they gave up nearly 400 yards of offense and just over 30 points per game.
Throughout the offseason, head coach Dave Doeren has had his team working hard to improve upon those numbers, and he is happy with the growth his defense has shown.
“I’m really proud of how our guys have worked since the end of last season,” Doeren said. “We look forward to the depth and competition that comes out of camp.”
NC State returns seven starters on defense, with the defensive line being the most experienced of the unit. Four returning linemen have starting experience with 71 starts between them
The defensive line is anchored by redshirt senior defensive end Art Norman, who was named the team’s defensive lineman of the year in 2013 and has compiled 10 sacks in the past two season.
Norman sees this defensive line as a stronger unit than the one the Wolfpack put on the field last season, partly because of experience and the hard work they have put in to get better.
“I’ve been really impressed with the D-Line,” Norman said. “We all stepped up our craft this summer and conditioning. I’m excited to see what we’re going to do this season.”
Starting was an issue for the Wolfpack last season and Norman realizes the importance of the line playing well from the opening snap.
“With the D-Line, once we start, we kind of set the tempo for the whole defense,” he said. “I feel like, if we play good, the whole defense plays good.”
Players and coaches admit the team is well ahead of where they were at this point last year. At this time last year, the team was still working on picking up Doeren’s defensive system.
“We’ve had the time to put in and learn everything,” said redshirt sophomore cornerback Juston Burris. “Definitely the freshmen. Having them step up and teaching them, because we need them to step up and play.
“A lot of times, when you learn a new defense, you learn new techniques and things like that,” Norman said. “Now that we don’t have to spend as much time on the little things, it’s easier to just flow.”
Now that everyone is up to speed on the defensive schemes, the depth of the defense is what Doeren has to worry about. That doesn’t seem to be an issue, as the team seems to be deeper than it was last year.
“You see the depth in practice, guys coming in and out,” said Burris. “The depth is a lot better than it was last year. We had a lot of young guys, and they really are going to contribute this year. We’re going to be ready to go by the time Aug. 30 rolls around.”
Doeren has been preaching competition to his team throughout training camp, and that has improved the quality of everyone’s play in Burris’ eyes.
“You have to go all out because you have so much competition behind you,” he said. “There’s no off days. Somebody is behind you trying to take your number one spot.”
Injuries are part of every team, and NC State is no different. Linebacker M.J. Salahuddin is out indefinitely with a knee injury that required surgery, but Doeren is not worried about the hit to his depth.
“Still feel good about our depth there, but I still feel bad about it for MJ,” Doeren said “probably one of the better workers on our football team.
“We have that next man up mentality,” said Burris. “If an injury comes, and we hope it doesn’t because we need everybody we have, but we have somebody behind them that can hopefully fill the production that they were going to have this year.”
A strong offseason and camp has NC State excited about the season as they look to improve on their lackluster performance last season. Possibly the biggest difference, is the team’s belief in their play.
“We just believe in ourselves, and just take it one game at a time,” Norman said. “The first expectation is just 1-0 and go from there.”
NC State opens the season Aug. 30 at home against Georgia Southern.