Five to watch: NCCU Defense

After a rough outing on the road against Top 25 opponent Stanford, Duke returns home to face North Carolina Central. Here are five players on the Eagles' defensive unit who could make a difference against Duke.

Off-season departures hit the Eagle defense hard as the team lost its top three tacklers from the 2011 season. Still, NC Central returns eight starters and 13 of the top 17 from the 2011 depth chart.

Top 5 to watch NCCU Defense

1. NG John Drew (6-2, 330, Sr.): Drew may not be the Eagles' most important defensive lineman, but he is certainly the most known to Blue Devil fans. In 2009 Drew appeared to be the next big thing on the defensive line in Durham after appearing in all 12 games as a true freshman and recording 34 tackles (11 solo), including 4.0 tackles for a loss, an assisted sack, 2 pass break-ups, a quarterback hurry and a recovered fumble in a back-up role.

Then came the 2009 offseason where Drew's off the field conduct resulted in his dismissal from the program, leaving a big hole to fill on the Blue Devil line, which took a while to fill.

Drew landed at NC Central, added 25 pounds, and appeared in five of the team's final six games, all starts and ended with 11 tackles (seven solo), 2.0 tackles for a loss, an unassisted sack, a forced fumble and a pass break-up. As a junior Drew appeared in 10 of the 11 games, made seven starts and finished with 24 tackles (14 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1 fumble rec.

2. DE Stephen Young (6-2, 265, Sr.): Young played two seasons at Winston Salem State before he moved over to Central as a junior. Last year he tallied 44 tackles with 9.5 hits for a loss and 3.0 sacks while playing every game as a starting defensive lineman.

With the defensive line being thought of as a strength, Young has continued to terrorize off the end, totaling 10 total tackles in two games this season. Included in those 10 stops have been six tackles for loss and a sack against Fayetteville State. Young is producing at this level as the primary backup 2nd team All-MEAC performer, Xavier Proctor, but gets the nod when the Eagles go with a 4-man front.

Young isn't of the caliber that Duke saw last week in California, but he has a history of making plays and putting pressure on his man, and ultimately finding his way into the backfield. He's one player the Blue Devils will certainly need to keep an eye on this Saturday.

3. FS C.J. Moore (6-2, 178, So.): is a big safety who helps out in both the running and passing game. Through two games he's averaged 8.5 stops. It's a nice replacement from a defensive backfield that lost two starters from 2011. A season ago Moore appeared in just three games, recording five tackles, but a strong Spring performance resulted in his continued rise to the top of the free safety depth chart

4. LB Demontray Ryland (6-2, 244, R-So.): A big, physical linebacker, Ryland makes a living in the middle of the field - primarily as a run-stuffer in the second level. Entering his third year in the program, Ryland earned the starting position for good after earning four starts in 11 contests a season ago. .

In 2011 he played in all 11 games and recorded 29 total tackles including 4.0 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 2 pass breakups. In the first two games of the season, Ryland has continued his strong play at middle linebacker, recording 6.0 tackles per game including three tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He also forced a fumble in last week's game against Elon.

5. P Matthew Cornelius (6-0, 163, R-Jr.): Fourth year junior punter is back after a 2001 campaign in which he averaged 35.4 yards per punt with a long boot of 66 yards. He blasted five punts of 50 yards or better and placed 23 attempts inside the 20-yard line with only one touchback.

So far, with the Eagles dominating Fayetteville State, and then playing from behind for much of the game against Elon, Cornelius has been called upon 10 times. He's responded with an average of 32 yards per kick, but has a net average just over 28 yards. This has been a major issue for the Eagles in spotting their opponents short fields.

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