Next Man Up

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State had the first major injury of fall camp last week, and it happened at perhaps the Wolfpack's thinnest position.

Head coach Dave Doeren announced on Sunday that projected starting middle linebacker M.J. Salahuddin is out indefinitely with a knee injury.

"Unfortunately M.J. Salahuddin had a knee injury four or five days ago that will keep him out for a while," said Doeren. "I hate to see it for M.J. like I do for any player. He may be one of the better workers on our football team.

"I'm not going to get into the specifics of what happened to him. I don't think that's right. It's an injury that required surgery and he'll be back."

Salahuddin started five games as a sophomore, totaling 25 tackles. What does it mean for NC State? Well, it presents an opportunity for redshirt freshman Jerod Fernandez.

Last week, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Dave Huxtable informed Pack Pride that Fernandez was battling Salahuddin for the starting job.

While Fernandez doesn't have game experience, he had a great spring that he ended with an 11-tackle performance in the Kay Yow Spring Game.

He has certainly impressed his position coach.

"Jerod is a tough sucker," said Huxtable. "He's a contact player who loves to play the game. He's just a redshirt freshman, but his football IQ is so good for young kid. He works at he game. The future is bright for Jerod."

NC State shifted to a 4-2-5 scheme in the spring and it has decreased the need for depth at linebacker, and that's good for the Wolfpack because they don't have it. Salahuddin is now out indefinitely and at the start of fall camp redshirt freshman Quinton Patterson left the program. Three other linebackers, Artemis Robinson, Coult Culler, and Ty Linton, aren't practicing due to injury, and Linton is out for the season.

However, NC State should be able to find a rotation at the position starting with Fernandez and the Wolfpack's two seniors, Brandon Pittman and Rodman Noel.

Pittman and Noel are currently battling for the starting job at weakside linebacker. Most expected Pittman to be the starter heading into fall camp, but it sounds like Noel has made major strides.

"Rod is a totally different guy then when I first got here a year ago," said Huxtable. "He was a defensive back that converted to linebacker but was still playing like a defensive back.

"But, he had a great spring and became much tougher. He became a better contact player... his contact level has increased."

"He worked really hard this summer, put on some weight and has gotten really stronger," Huxtable added. "I think with that weight and that extra strength he has just gained volumes of confidence. Rod is a very, very smart kid that knows the defense as well as anyone on the field. He has become more vocal, which a senior should, so I have been very pleased with what Rod has done."

Two true freshmen could factor into the mix: Airius Moore and Bradley Chubb.

Moore was the Wolfpack's last commitment in the 2014 recruiting class, and it looks like he has turned heads early on.

"Wow, Airius Moore," said Huxtable. "Am I excited about that guy? He was kind of a late get for us, but you're talking about a guy that is smart, loves the game, works hard, and is powerful... powerful. With that power, he's got unbelievable footspeed, and he's instinctive.

"He's going to be a tremendous player for us I feel. I'm very blessed and excited to have Airius here with us."

Huxtable spoke briefly on Moore's recruitment. He had originally committed to Indiana before flipping to NC State.

"He came to camp and he was very impressive in camp," said Huxtable. "We didn't know at that time with our recruiting numbers if we were going to be able to take another linebacker. Things worked out that we were able to. Man, I'm really glad that he joined us. I'm very excited about him."

Like Moore, Chubb enrolled probably not expecting to be in the mix for playing time at linebacker, but the reasons are different.

"Bradley came in as a defensive end," said Huxtable. "We moved him the week before camp to linebacker. I'm glad we did. I think he has a bright future.

"Bradley is a big, tall, athletic football player. He stands 6'4 and he's 240 plus. He has really good movement and is another kid that's smart."

Pack Pride Top Stories