Mr. Versatility

Just when NC State began to turn the corner defensively in 2011 starting strongside linebacker D.J. Green went down with a foot injury. While senior Dwayne Maddox stepped up and played well at the position, it also opened the door for Dontae Johnson to work his way on the field.

Just when NC State began to turn the corner defensively in 2011 starting strongside linebacker D.J. Green went down with a foot injury. While senior Dwayne Maddox stepped up and played well at the position, it also opened the door for Dontae Johnson to work his way on the field.

Green was injured in the loss at Florida State, but the Pack would close the season winning four of its last five games and Johnson's play was major reason why.

"When D.J. went down we knew we had to get Dontae on the field more, especially in passing situations," said defensive coordinator Mike Archer. "What worked in our favor was the majority of the teams we played at the end of the year were spread-type offenses, which opened the door for us to use our nickel packages.

"I would say we were probably in the nickel 70% of the time in those games, so we had Dontae on the field. It's a big reason why we were able to win those games, the fact that we were able to get him on the field."

Johnson finished the season with 27 tackles, four pass breakups, and three sacks, and in the last four games he totaled 13 tackles and all three sacks.

"He is one of our best 11 players on defense," said Archer. "He is probably not No. 11, he's probably better than that."

"Dontae gives us a guy that with all the new offenses going to spread, he is a defensive back that can play all over the field," added defensive backs coach Mike Reed. "He is a very smart player, and he can go in there and not lose anything whether it is at safety, corner, or linebacker."

Corner? Yes, you read that right. Going into the spring the Wolfpack coaching staff knew they had to find a way to get No. 25 on the field even more. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds he is rangy and athletic enough to play safety, physical and aggressive as a rusher to play the nickel linebacker, but can he also help at cornerback? Looking to create more competition, Archer and Reed wanted to take a look at Johnson at boundary corner and it sounds like the experiment worked out.

"To be honest, it kind of surprised me a little bit, how well he played at boundary," said Reed. "Playing on the edge, you need a different mindset because normally when you're inside you are covered up, protected. You need to trust yourself and your instincts, and he did that. He handled it.

"What he gives us at cornerback is increased competition. Now scheme-wise I know I can put him anywhere. He is now that guy where if someone gets hurt anywhere back there he can go in and handle the position. It's a blessing as a coach to have a versatile kid like that."

"Well, we were trying to create that competition and provide more for C.J. Wilson, some competition," added Archer. "Dontae showed he is more than capable of handling the position."

However, moving Johnson to corner would leave a gaping hole in the Wolfpack's nickel package but also depletes the depth at safety, where NC State already lost two players in the spring to transfer.

"If we move him to corner, who is the nickel backer going to be," asked Archer. "Dontae is a very effective blitzer and our nickel backer blitzes a lot... we put him in our pressures.

"Coming out of the spring we've found ways to use him in the nickel and are comfortable with him at corner and once we get to work with the freshmen we'll see if one of them can play nickel in case we do move Dontae to corner. Still, someone is going to get dinged up back there. We need some depth. We feel good about the secondary, but with Coleman and Haynes no longer here we need to find depth at safety."

Both Archer and Reed said that if they had to name one defensive back who really caught their eye in the spring it would be Johnson.

"Obviously David Amerson was great... Brandan [Bishop], and Earl [Wolff], but Dontae to me was the No. 1 guy," said Archer. "We're talking about a kid who in the course of one practice would play safety, boundary corner, and the nickel.

"That's not easy to do, and he is the only guy we can ask to do that because of his football intelligence but also his ability. Dontae had a strong spring for us."

"I would give that award to Dontae," added Reed. "As far as the ability go out on the edge and play corner, that impressed me. He was a little apprehensive of doing it at first because he had settled in at nickel and safety, but it gives me more flexibility with him at corner and he showed he can get the job done."


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