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April 25, 2011

Spring review: Defense looks stout

Despite the fact that redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon completed just 21 of 40 passes for 182 yards and had two interceptions in the Kay Yow Spring Game April 16 at Carter-Finley Stadium, Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien was not displeased with his quarterback.

That's because O'Brien knew that NC State has a good defense.

"Michael Glennon wasn't going to throw for 400 yards this spring against that defense," O'Brien said. "It's a little different defense. That's because of guys playing with experience, and there are guys competing for a job."
Here is a breakdown of how the defense lines up after spring.

Defensive Line

The biggest question mark on defense may be at defensive end. Fifth-year senior Jeff Rieskamp returns as a starter at one side, but the big question is who starts alongside Rieskamp and fills out the four-man rotation that defensive line coach Keith Willis likes to use.

Starting the spring game with the first-string defense on the Red team was redshirt junior McKay Frandsen, a transfer from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah that arrived in January. Frandsen, a junior college All-American in 2010, had three tackles, including two for a loss and a sack, in the scrimmage.

The pre-spring favorite to start was redshirt sophomore Darryl Cato-Bishop, but he was limited this spring with an apparent injury. Redshirt freshmen Art Norman and Theo Rich are also in the mix.

"The fact that Cato-Bishop has missed most of spring hurts, but that's given McKay Frandsen an opportunity to get reps," defensive coordinator Mike Archer noted. "It's given Theo Rich a chance to get reps, and it's given Art Norman a chance. Art's done a good job, and Theo's done a good job. When somebody is hurt, somebody else has to step up. Those guys have."

Norman started with Cato-Bishop on the White team and had a solo tackle for a loss when redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Brosius fumbled a snap. Rich backed up Rieskamp and Frandsen on the Red team and assisted on a tackle.

The interior of the defensive line appears to be in good shape. Fifth-year senior J.R. Sweezy returns after earning honorable mention All-ACC honors last season, and he tied Rieskamp for the most tackles among defensive linemen in the spring game. Both Rieskamp and Sweezy had five hits and one sack. Sweezy also broke up a pass.

Starting alongside Sweezy was classmate Markus Kuhn, who assisted on three tackles in the game. Kuhn figures to battle junior Brian Slay for the position next to Sweezy in the fall. Slay assisted on a tackle for the White team, which consisted of the second-team defense.

The likely fourth defensive tackle in the rotation is promising redshirt freshman Thomas Teal. Teal had three tackles April 16, including a sack and another tackle for a loss. Archer also noted that sophomore A.J. Ferguson was playing well until he got hurt during spring drills.

"You've got three guys who have started a lot of football games," Archer said, alluding to Kuhn, Slay and Sweezy. "We've got to find the fourth guy because we tend to play four or five tackles because they wear down. That's going to be important in August, who is going to be that fourth guy and who is going to be that fifth guy."

Linebacker

Linebackers coach Jon Tenuta had some new faces in different places this spring as the Pack tries to settle on a unit that must replace its All-ACC middle linebacker from 2010 in Nate Irving.

The Pack moved fifth-year senior Audie Cole, a two-year starter at strongside linebacker, to the middle this spring, and the early reviews are positive. Cole had a tackle for a loss and also picked off a deflected pass in the spring game.

"We moved Audie there with the intention of making sure that we are strong there," Archer noted. "I think the move has gone well, and I think when he gets back in August, he will continue to get better. There's a lot of things he does very well: his understanding of our pass defense and he gets everybody lined up. He knows what we're doing. He's been in the system now, and he feels comfortable. I think that's the biggest part."

Backing up Cole in the middle is senior Dwayne Maddox, who was active in the spring game with a scrimmage-high six total tackles, including a game-high two sacks.

Replacing Cole at the strongside linebacker spot could be sophomore D.J. Green, who was a safety last fall. Green had four tackles and a pair of pass breakups in the scrimmage, and one of his tips led to redshirt junior weakside linebacker Terrell Manning's 53-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"It's not an easy adjustment going from safety to the SAM linebacker, the field linebacker," Archer said. "I think so far, he's gotten better. He's got to continue to get better in training camp because he's got the ability to do it, he just has to get reps.

"Everybody says it's an easy transition because he's just moving up, but that's not true. The reads are different. It's gone well, and that's what spring football is about, moving people around and see what they can do."

Competing with Green for the SAM spot is redshirt sophomore Hans Rice, who had three tackles for the White team.

Manning appears set at the weakside position. He had three tackles for the Red squad to go with his pick six. Redshirt sophomore Rickey Dowdy had three tackles for the White team at the WILL.

Not participating this spring was redshirt sophomore E.J. Carter, a Syracuse transfer who made the All-Big East Freshman Team in 2009. Carter, who was projected as a middle linebacker, sat out spring drills for academic reasons.

Senior Sterling Lucas, listed as second-string on the pre-spring organizational chart at middle linebacker, also missed most of the spring with a knee injury that required surgery. Lucas is expected back by preseason camp.

Cornerback

The return of redshirt sophomores Jarvis Byrd and Rashard Smith to the team has made the cornerback position one of the deepest on the roster. The two join fifth-year senior Justin Byers, redshirt junior C.J. Wilson and sophomore David Amerson, all of whom have extensive starting experience, on the cornerback depth chart.

The starters for the Red team in the spring game were Amerson and Byrd. Amerson had five tackles and a pair of pass breakups while Byrd added three hits, including a pair of notable hard tackles. Smith played the nickel back for the Red and had three tackles and a pass breakup.

Byers and Wilson lined up at corner for the White squad. Wilson made a tackle, broke up a pass and intercepted walk-on senior quarterback Daniel Imhoff and returned it 27 yards. Byers tied for a White team-high five tackles and also broke up a pass.

Redshirt junior Gary Grant was the nickel corner for White and had a tackle and pass breakup.

Safety

Safety is another position where NC State has developed a good amount of depth. Both starters are back from last season, redshirt junior Earl Wolff at the boundary safety and junior Brandan Bishop at the field safety.

Bishop had three tackles while Wolff added a pair of tackles. Both are being pushed by promising sophomore Dontae Johnson, who had a pair of tackles for the White team.

"In my opinion, we have three starters because there is going to be a competition," Archer said. "We said that to the safeties. Earl, Dontae and Brandan, those three guys have started football games for us so whoever is practicing the best and whoever is playing the best is going to start the game. Those three guys are going to rotate in there, now we've got to find a fourth safety. Right now, we feel pretty good about our three guys back there."

The leading contenders for that fourth safety spot are redshirt sophomores Donald Coleman and Dean Haynes. Haynes started with Johnson on the White team while Coleman backed them up, but Coleman was more active in the spring game.

Coleman tied with Byers for a White team-high five tackles, while Haynes finished with one assist. Haynes is still readjusting to the position. He played primarily safety for the scout team in 2009 before moving first to corner and then running back last season. He is back at safety this spring.

"He's done okay," Archer said of Haynes. "He's been good, but it's new to him. We just have to keep working."



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