Standout defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy went down in preseason camp with a foot injury, and top reserve Thomas Teal was injured in the opener. Brian Slay and A.J. Ferguson were banged up as well.
Sure, the Pack had injuries at defensive end (Jeff Rieskamp) and linebacker (Terrell Manning), but State was decimated at defensive tackle to the point where starting fullback Taylor Gentry had to play some snaps at the position in the loss to the Yellow Jackets.
"I think the adversity we went through last year with all the injuries to guys like [Thomas] Teal, J.R. Sweezy, will help us this year," said defensive coordinator Mike Archer. "A lot of young guys were forced to play. T.Y. McGill was forced to play. Teal, when he returned, was forced to play, and we've got to use that to our advantage.
"Maybe they weren't ready to play early on when forced to, and now they have some experience that we must turn into a positive."
State's defense would rebound in 2011. After five games the Pack ranked No. 11 in the ACC in total defense... by the end of the season the unit was No. 4 overall in the league and that improvement was why the Pack was able to pick up eight wins including a bowl victory over Louisville.
Publicly there are questions at defensive tackle because State has to replace two NFL draft picks in Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy at defensive tackle. However, Archer seems optimistic about the returning pieces.
"At the tackle position we've got some bodies with [Thomas] Teal, who is a big guy, T.Y. [McGill] is a big guy, A.J. Ferguson, and the JUCO, [Deylan] Buntyn," said Archer. "The guy that becomes big for us is Carlos Gray. He will be able to play and we can finally see what he can do because physically he is what you're looking for.
"He has practiced so little here in the year he's been here, and that is going to be the key."
Gray, a 6-foot-4, 321-pound redshirt freshman from Pinson, Alabama, redshirted in 2011, and Archer believes he has the ability to impact right away.
"Physically, he is a man," Archer said of Gray. "He's very strong, and he has very quick feet. He can be a disruptor for us inside.
"It was very obvious to us that he had all the physical tools and now we've got to get him caught up on his assignments, which gaps he has, because he has all the tools you want. The key will be how fast he picks it all up... that will determine how much he plays."
One player expected to see a lot of game action is sophomore T.Y. McGill. An unheralded recruit in State's 2011 class, McGill ended up cracking the rotation as a true freshman, totaling 19 tackles in 249 snaps.
A burly defender who can pressure the quarterback but also stuff the run, McGill is a coach's dream because of his relentless motor. Pack fans got to see that motor in the Kay Yow Spring Game when McGill ran down Wolfpack tight end Asa Watson to prevent a touchdown on a long reception by Watson.
"To see a 310-pound guy run 75 yards across the field and catch a player like Asa, that tells you a lot about his attitude and what he is trying to do," Archer said of McGill. "The thing we've got to do is get them to do that all the time, play with that effort within the line of scrimmage.
"You may ask a guy to make a play like that once a year and when you get that chance you've got to do what T.Y. did. That's what we told him when we watched the film, that was phenomenal effort. I want everybody on our defense to watch this 300-pounder run down Asa Watson. That is what it's going to take from everybody to win. It's something he can be proud of, and we must get that effort from everyone on a consistent basis."
State returns experience at end and tackle, and with the inexperience at linebacker Archer believes he will need the front four to be even more productive in 2012.
"I think we're going to be fine at defensive end, but at the tackle position we've got to get more consistent play," said Archer. "The good news is I'm confident that will come as they get older. The biggest thing our front line has to do is be able to rush four and get pressure.
"Whoever is at linebacker is going to be inexperienced so we've got to be better at rushing the passer and strong in our run defense and gap control up front because we probably won't be able to pressure as much with our linebackers this year."