Strong "D" For State?

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State had four players drafted off last year's defense, so you would expect the Wolfpack's coaching staff to be concerned with the unit.

Audie Cole, Terrell Manning, J.R. Sweezy, and Markus Kuhn were all selected in the 2012 NFL draft. Factor in the graduation of Dwayne Maddox and D.J. Green's suspension, and you would expect NC State's coaching staff to seem concerned.

However, head coach Tom O'Brien says the unit continues to progress, especially at linebacker where the Wolfpack must replace the top four from last season.

"They've progressed," O'Brien said of the linebackers. "Pittman has been inside and outside, but for us to get the best three on the field he moved outside. We get Sterling Lucas back after a knee injury.

"The first test is going to be Friday night when they get on the football field. Everything changes. Those are three positions that we're really going to have to pay attention to."

What should help the linebackers is what O'Brien calls his most experienced and deepest defensive line since hd has been in Raleigh. Led by defensive ends Art Norman, Darryl Cato-Bishop, and Brian Slay, State defensive line coach Keith Willis could play up to ten or eleven linemen on Friday.

"[The defensive line is] more experienced and deeper than it's been," stated O'Brien. "The depth comes for us in the defensive end position. Last year we moved through those injuries and redid the whole defense, we ended up moving Slay and Cato-Bishop outside, they both lost some pounds.

"[Inside there] is good depth and good experience. McGill finished strong, Teal played a lot. There are some guys that have played a good amount of football and we believe in playing two lines."

Much of the camp the questions have centered around the linebacker situation, but when the depth chart was released on Monday perhaps the most surprising change was at cornerback.

Three-year starter C.J. Wilson was not even listed on the depth chart at boundary conrnerback, where he was replaced by Dontae Johnson as the starter with Jarvis Byrd backing him up.

O'Brien said on Monday that Wilson was dealing with some NCAA issues, which is why he wasn't on the depth chart. However, that doesn't mean he would be starting right now as it sounds like Johnson, who at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds is as imposing a cornerback that you will find, really impressed in the spring and fall at the position.

"Dontae's been fine, we made the move last spring," O'Brien said of moving Johnson from safety to cornerback. "Dontae started the spring game at corner for us. This was something that really had nothing to do with C.J. and everything to do with Dontae and what his abilities are, so he's been at corner since spring practice."

State's nickelback in 2011, Johnson started two games last season at linebacker when the Pack was in a 4-2-5 lineup. He finished the year with 30 tackles and three pass breakups.


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