Applying Pressure

Earlier in the week we broke down NC State's projected starters at linebacker with assistant coach Jon Tenuta, and today we take a look at a few of the reserves who could contend for a starting position.

Earlier in the week we broke down NC State's projected starters at linebacker with assistant coach Jon Tenuta, and today we take a look at a couple of the reserves who could contend for a starting position.

Prior to providing a player-by-player analysis, Coach Tenuta discussed which traits he and the Wolfpack staff looks for when recruiting a high school player into their defensive scheme.

"Well, I'm a defensive coach, I've actually spent more time working with defensive backs than linebackers but defense has always been where I've worked," said Tenuta. "For a defensive player the first thing I look for is toughness. Then based on the position that the kid plays how explosive is he and do they have the traits and the instincts that you want, that you can build from for them to fit your system and be a complete football player.

"You can watch a kid on film but when you go and talk to them, because of regulations it's mostly on the phone, but you get a feel for what the kid likes and the part of football that he really enjoys and then you just kind of go from there."

While the three returning backups, Michael Peek, Ryan Cheek and Brandon Pittman lacked much hype during their recruitment, Coach Tenuta has seen growth in each of them and expects they will all continue with their progress throughout fall camp and into the 2012 season.

Ryan Cheek

The reserves, along with newcomers Drew Davis, M.J. Salahuddin and junior college transfer Robert Caldwell will be expected to provide depth all season while creating an atmosphere of competition to help push and motivate the starters in front of them.

One of them, redshirt junior Ryan Cheek, hasn't seen much time at linebacker but he has been in the mix on special teams for two seasons while working on his fundamentals and technique for the middle linebacker spot.

"Cheek is a tough guy that has become a very knowledgeable guy in the aspect of the scheme and what to expect from offenses," said Tenuta. "He's spent a lot more time in the film room which has helped him understand how everybody fits, so he's taken great strides in that aspect."

Tenuta went on to explain that while Cheek hasn't seen many snaps at linebacker, it's not necessarily a reflect on his lack of abilities but more so speaks to the players that were in front of him for two seasons.

"He's come a long ways from my first spring here back when I had three guys that are playing in the playing in the National Football League," Tenuta said. "Back then it was pretty hard for him and a lot of the other guys to get a lot of reps and now he sees why those reps were that important in spring ball and going in to the summer, that really counts so I think he's really matured in that aspect."

The other two linebackers on the two-deep were sophomores Michael Peek and Brandon Pittman, who both saw some limited action in 2011. Each entered the fall looking to contend for a starting position, but Peek recently went down with a knee injury that will cause him to redshirt in 2012.

Prior to the injury, Peek certainly had impressed his position coach.

"I think that Mike Peek has come a long way in the maturity aspect," said Tenuta. "It was tough for him based on some things that happened to him through his high school career and growing up and then he came here and it took him a little bit longer to get acclimated.

"He's a great kid who is tough and smart and he really just works his rear end off in everything that he does. I see a bright future for the young man."

Brandon Pittman

While coach Tenuta praised Peek's maturity and toughness it is the athleticism in Pittman that stands out.

"He's a guy that's an athlete, he's got size and speed and he's really athletic," said Tenuta. "At this point, the game is probably still a little fast for him. When they come out of high school into the college game they have to start to understand why it's important to do this or see this.

"He has the physical tools to become an outstanding linebacker, so we've just got to keep working on that aspect of it. He's just got to keep moving forward in his understanding of the game, which he made some progress on in the spring."

Ready or not, the season is rapidly approaching and the Pack defense will need to count on the inexperienced linebackers to grow up fast and help contribute to what many believe will be a special season in Raleigh.

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