NC State cornerbacks coach George Barlow is focused on his position group improving, but he is thrilled to see where redshirt senior Juston Burris sits as the NFL draft approaches. Burris was really good in 2015 and chances are he'll be drafted shortly.
"Juston did a great job for us this year," said Barlow. "Where he improved the most was being consistently confident. He always had the ability, it was just a deal where he had to go out there and play with confidence and deal with the adversity you're always going to have at corner.
"He learned to do that last year and put that with his technique and confidence... just playing hard, and he had a really consistent year. I watched him at the combine and thought he did well. He moved well and did some things to put himself in a position where a lot of teams will look at him."
"Juston was inconsistent in his early years, but he put in the time and effort to get better," added Barlow. "He took the coaching from the meeting room to the field, and our younger guys can see that improvement. He now has a chance to fulfill his dreams."
Burris started all 13 games at one cornerback position and Jack Tocho and Mike Stevens manned the other spot on the defense. Tocho played in 11 games, totaling 20 tackles and five pass breakups. Entering his senior season, Barlow hopes he can make the same strides Burris made.
"With Jack it's more about his confidence and tracking the ball at the moment of truth," Barlow said. "Most of the times he was beat, he was in position to make the play. He now has to get better at tracking the ball and making those plays. With that, and improving his confidence, Jack will definitely improve this year."
Stevens started strong in 2015, initially overtaking Tocho for the starting position before seeing his play slide down the stretch. Now a junior, Barlow looks to Stevens as a guy who could really impact this year.
"Mike has to be consistent with his technique," Barlow stated. "Last year he wasn't consistent with his technique or confidence in terms of playing the ball. I think he'll continue to be a good player because he has the skillset to be a really good player now.
"We have to get the effort and knowledge of the defense and confidence to go along with the skillset. I think he'll show a big improvement his year. I'm expecting big things from Mike."
There is little experience behind Tocho and Stevens, the projected starters. In fact, the Wolfpack coaching staff made a pair of position moves looking to build depth at the position. One of those was sliding sophomore Freddie Phillips to cornerback from nickelback.
"I think he has a good chance to be able to play the position," Barlow said of Phillips. "With his skillset, he's an explosive kid who has the hips and feet to play the position. He just needs to learn what to do and improve his technique.
"Freddie definitely has the ability to help us next year because he's a really talented and explosive kid."
Johnathan Alston caught 18 passes for 167 yards and a score as a junior, but he's now working at cornerback in preparation for his senior season. Could he move up the depth chart?
"J.A. has the skillset," said Barlow. "He has a chance to be successful because he has embraced the challenge. He wants to put himself in a position to compete with those guys for a starting spot."
Finally, Barlow discussed true freshman Bryce Banks, who enrolled at NC State in January. At nearly 6-foot-3, Banks has plenty of length for the position but, as with most true freshmen, he has work to do before seeing the field.
"Bryce is doing well," Barlow said. "He's a long corner like we're looking for. He just has to get acclimated to what we're doing. he should still be in high school so a lot of this is a shock to his system. He's starting to come back around after hitting a wall for a little bit with so much going on.
"I think he's going to be fine. He's going to be a really good player for us. He just has a little ways to go compared to the other guys, but I think by the end of spring he'll be making a push to get in the mix."
Overall, what does Barlow think of his group?
"They are working hard," he said. "They are doing the things needed to become better players, and that is what you love to see as a coach."