"We're playing okay right now, but we're not playing our best football," said Manning. "We've got a lot of improvement to go during fall camp because I think in the spring we were playing our best ball.
"We've been good during camp, but we can be better. I think once we get our chemistry all the way back we will be able to maximize our ability on defense."
With that being said, Manning feels the potential is there for his unit to be outstanding in 2011.
"Our confidence is high because we know we can play," he said. "When we are all doing the right things the sky is the limit... we can stop any offense that we go against.
"We have to make sure we do the right things all of the time, not most of the time. Once that happens we will have the best defense in the ACC."
It all starts up front for the NC State defense. The Wolfpack returns several players with experience, including defensive tackles J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn, and defensive end Jeff Rieskamp. Most folks talk about the Pack's back seven, but the defensive line is vital to their success.
"It's shocking that our d-line isn't talked about much because that's where all our playmakers are," he stated. "Those guys do a great job of making plays but also keeping the offensive line off us so we can make plays.
"Without them there is no us."
When asked to name a player who could emerge for the Wolfpack defense, Manning quickly snapped, "Art Norman." A redshirt freshman defensive end, Norman has been turning heads with his play since arriving in Raleigh last fall.
"He's a small guy, but he is faster than any defensive lineman I've seen in my life," Manning said of Norman. "He has a great first step... he causes problems. He's physical, and he gives those guys problems with that first step. Being an offensive lineman it has to be hard to block him because he covers a lot of ground in a hurry.
"I think he's definitely similar to Rieskamp in that they are both fast guys at that end spot, but Art Norman has an entirely different speed. He can definitely add a lot to our defense... we can see some sacks from him."
Manning has also been impressed with a couple of the true freshmen linebackers who enrolled over the summer.
"[Michael] Peek, from Georgia is going to be a player," said Manning. "He knows how to bring the lumber. You also have [Brandon] Pittman. He's an athletic guy who loves to hit too. I think they are going to be great players here in the future."
Right now it is Manning and Audie Cole's time to lead the defense from the linebacker position. Both are coming off outstanding 2010 seasons and provide much-needed experience and playmaking ability. The question mark for the Wolfpack will be at strongside linebacker where sophomore D.J. Green is replacing Cole, who has moved middle linebacker. What can Wolfpack fans expect to see out of D.J. Green?
"Speed," said Manning. "He's a guy that can cover the field. He runs sideline-to-sideline, and he knows what to do. He make the plays we expect him to make for us, and that's what he's going to do.
"It wasn't shocking to see him transition to linebacker so smoothly because he understands coverages coming from safety. Being able to adjust so fast was expected... anything less from him would be selling himself short and us. He's a great athlete, and he is going to play well."
For Manning, succeeding on defense is simple. Look for NC State to try and stuff the run so their pressure can take over.
"We want to make teams one-dimensional," he said. "If we can do that we can bring our blitzes at that point, and we won't hold back. We'll come after them and cause a bunch of problems.
"We want to hold ever team we play under 100 rushing yards. If we can do that I think we can win the game. We don't want to give up many yards or points and get the ball back for our offense."