Q & A With Steve Dunlap

Steve Dunlap is going through his first spring practice as NC State's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Following the Red-White Game, he took some time to give us his impressions on the Wolfpack defense, some of his goals this spring and how the position groups are shaping up heading into the summer.

What were your goals for this spring?
We have to find out who our players are, identify them and hopefully get the players in the right place. That's the main focus right now, there's no question about it. Hopefully, the older players, the junior and senior players, refine their technique and get a little bit better every day at what they do. That's the goal of spring ball. And obviously, I think, overall, the development of the young players. That's what spring football is all about.

What did you think of the defensive line's performance this afternoon?
I thought at times they played pretty good. We mixed and matched guys a lot of times. Like I've said, it takes 11 to win this game. The front four obviously can be a dominant part of this defense, there's no question, but those other seven guys have to pick up the slack also.

Can you talk about DeMario Pressley's progress?
What the front four has basically is athleticism. They're all good athletes, they have size and they have speed -- Pressley as well. He's still a young player; he's still under development and there's a lot of things he can get better at. Even Mario Williams, there's things he can get better at and he's got to continue to improve as a football player. If we continue to do that, hopefully it will be a good defense.

Returning the No. 1 total defense from last year, is it a challenge to keep these guys level-headed?
To me, last year was last year, and last year ended the last game. Everybody is talking about last year, and I've been through this before. In 1996, we had the No. 1 defense in the country [at West Virginia] and in 1997, didn't play very well. What I'm telling you right now is that, really, there's no reason to talk about last year. College football is a constant change, losing players and developing new players. It's great what we did and I think everybody should be proud of what we did, but we have to wipe that slate clean at some point in time and we've got to go to work and roll our sleeves up make ourselves as good a defense as we can be. That's our No. 1 focus right now. Like I said, if you dwell on the past too much … God put eyes in the front of your head to look forward, not to look backwards. We've got to look forward. There's a lot of things we can get better at still. So we have to continue to improve.

This is a tough conference, now. There's no gimmes nowhere. It's a tough conference. It's probably as good a conference as there is in the country, and I'm proud I can be part of it. I played three of those teams a lot [at West Virginia and Syracuse]: Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami. So if you throw those three in the mix along with the original [teams in the ACC], that's some kind of conference.

How much progress can you make on defense when you're starting from such a high level?
So all we can do is go down?

Not necessarily.
Your goal as a coach is the development of your players and each individual player. Is he in the right place? Is he where he can be successful? If we accomplish that goal, I think that's what we strive to do. I feel good that we got that [done] … Like, as an example, we moved Ernest Jones from "Sam" [strongside linebacker] to "Will" [weakside], and when he's not playing over the tight end, he seems to be a much better player. He flows to the ball and he feels more relaxed and it looks like a more natural position for him -- along with LeRue Rumph playing on the tight end because he's an athletic guy, he knows how to play man coverage, he plays on the tight end well. Those are the things you find out in spring football.

It's a constant state of growth. We won't know what the potential of this defense is until maybe the end of two-a-days or even into the first couple of games. You don't really find out about your team until you go out there and play. One thing about college football that I've always disagreed with [is] we have no preseason scrimmage to find out about a team. High school has two or three scrimmages, the pros play four or five. But baby, when it's showtime, first game, that's when you'll find out about that defense right along with me. So we'll find out what happens when you turn the lights on.

You're replacing all four starters in the secondary. What have been your impressions of that part of the defense?
Well, there's been a focus on trying to learn to play zone coverage a little bit better. If we can continue to get better at a zone, it'll complement our man coverage. So I think they continue to improve. We've played a lot of our dime package, [trying to] find out who our nickel and dime players will be. We're not real deep there. We've got some young guys coming in and if we continue to develop, we'll be fine. We'll be two deep, and that's what we need to be.

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