September 1, 2010

Terrell Manning hopes to seize opportunity

When star linebacker Nate Irving missed last season due to injuries suffered in a near-fatal car accident, the linebacking corps suffered greatly. Audie Cole was starting for the first time at linebacker, prized recruit Dwayne Maddox was trying to fill Irving's shoes and Terrell Manning was a redshirt freshman bouncing back from a knee injury suffered during the last game of his prep career that forced him to redshirt in 2008.

The defense allowed 31.2 points per game and clearly missed their heart and soul. The linebackers couldn't fill Irving's vacated spot at weakside linebacker and the entire defensive performance suffered.

"He basically knows every linebacker position on the field, not only that, [he knows] every position on the field," Manning said when asked about the Pack's fifth-year senior middle linebacker. "He's one of those guys that you can look to for any type of information. If you mess up, he'll come and tell you, 'you're supposed to do this.' You try to go out there and correct it every time because you know that he's going to give it his best to do his job. You have to make sure that you do your [job] as well."

Manning, who enters the season as the starter at weakside linebacker, takes special note of what Irving has to say. Not only because he was one of the most-feared linebackers in the ACC during the 2008 season, or because he is a fifth-year senior, but because Irving has been where Manning is now. Irving played weakside linebacker for most of his career until switching to the middle for his final campaign. Manning says he couldn't have asked for a better mentor and is anxious to play next to Irving for the first time in a game this fall.

"I'm very happy that [defensive coordinator Mike Archer] gave me an opportunity," he said. "Without it, I'd be sitting on the sidelines, definitely because Nate is a great player. There's no doubt that he could have started [on the weakside] but he gave me the opportunity so I'm going to embrace it, take it and run with it."

Manning said that he has grown a lot in the past year, on the football field and off. The 6-foot-3 and 224-pounder who hails from Laurinburg battled his friend Maddox, a junior, for the starting spot last season. Although he did not prevail, Manning still started twice while totaling 48 tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one interception and four quarterback pressures. He said that he's made the most progress in the mental aspects of the game, which allows him to play faster.

Manning also feels he is helped by the addition of linebackers coach Jon Tenuta. He said one of his most important tasks since Tenuta came on board was to try to soak up as much as possible from the former defensive coordinator at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.

"He's a very smart coach and, right now, we're just trying to get in his head and learn the other team," Manning said. "It's very beneficial to have him out here with us.

"[The biggest thing I've learned from him is] mentality, really focusing on what other teams do. At the end of the day, we want to be able to adjust to what they do but … not cancel out the stuff that we do, as well."

This season, the coaches are expected to rotate linebackers frequently, thanks to the loaded group of heavy hitters. Cole led the team last season with 85 tackles while Sterling Lucas, Irving's expected back-up, and Maddox both exceeded the 50-tackle plateau. Irving has 136 career tackles and set a school record for most interceptions by a linebacker in 2008 when he hauled in four picks.

"It's a lot of rotation, nobody has to carry the load by themselves," he said. "Everybody can get in and play at anytime. With Nate coming back and the depth that we have already, there's no [drop off] whenever somebody else comes into the game."

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