Camp Amato: Aggression

RALEIGH, NC -- What's the common theme among NC State defensive coaches when asked what they are looking for in their players? They all want speed, and cornerbacks coach Greg Williams made that clear following Tuesday's evening practice.

  • Special Teams: Protect The Football
  • Defensive Tackles: Doing The Dirty Work
  • Defensive Ends: Domination
  • Safeties: The Trust Factor

    "We're looking for great athletes that can run," Williams said. "Guys that can run fast, jump high and make plays... that's it. That's the type of corners we are going to recruit."

    Williams, who is beginning his fourth season at NC State as cornerbacks coach, is a Wolfpack alum, and he has tutored an impressive list of athletes during their collegiate careers.

    Williams coached former Philadelphia Eagle quarterback Ron Jaworski while serving as quarterbacks coach at Youngstown State and was current NFL Pro Bowler and Denver Bronco Champ Bailey's position coach at the University of Georgia. Other All-Americans who learned from Williams include NC State's Woodrow Wilson and Duke's Ray Farmer.

    He clearly knows what it takes to succeed at the position, as Williams is trying to mold a relatively young group of cornerbacks.

    "The thing [our cornerbacks] have to do is understand that every play is dynamic, in other words you don't know when they are going to throw at you," he said. "We are out there all alone, and we are going to cover [wide receivers] hard on every play. That's why we play three corners a lot because that takes a lot of energy.

    "You don't know when it's going to happen... when a quarterback is going to test you. As soon as you start getting tired, and you don't win the battle, then we're going to lose."

    This year he returns two battle-tested cornerbacks in redshirt senior Marcus Hudson and redshirt junior A.J. Davis.

    Hudson is one of the league's top returning defensive backs and a versatile talent. After starting two years at cornerback for NC State, he was ineligible for competition in 2003, but returned to play both corner and free safety in 2004. As a junior, Hudson finished tied for fifth on the team in tackles with 70 while adding six pass breakups, four quarterback pressures, three sacks, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

    Like Hudson, Davis has plenty of experience. Despite starting just one game in his career, Davis has recorded over 700 snaps at cornerback because of the constant rotation of players in NC State's defensive backfield. He earned the only start of his career last year at Clemson, and registered 34 tackles and six pass breakups as a sophomore.

    Redshirt junior A.J. Davis will get his chance to shine in 2005.

    Williams has been thrilled with the play of both Davis and Hudson, and he feels they could have huge years for the Wolfpack.

    "They are really good players, and they are ready to go," he said. "They will probably be the best corners we've had here the past three or four years. That's what I think."

    While Williams is sure of his starting cornerbacks, the coveted third position in his rotation remains wide open.

    It was believed that sophomores Jimmie Sutton and Phillip Holloman were competing for the spot, but Williams says the race is even tighter now that freshmen Jeremy Gray and Levin Neal are consistently making plays in practice.

    "Right now that spot is up in the air, and really their performance has leveled off," Williams said of Holloman and Sutton. "I'm not real happy with how they are playing right now. The guys that are improving the most are Jeremy Gray and Levin Neal.

    "[Gray and Neal] are making plays. The other guys have had all the coaching, but they are not making plays."

    Redshirt sophomore Jimmie Sutton is competing for the nickel position.

    Sutton and Holloman played a lot in 2004 on special teams, but with Davis, Hudson and seniors Dovonte Edwards and Lamont Reid ahead of them on the depth chart, their snaps at cornerback were limited. However, they still are more experienced than Gray and Neal, and Williams is expecting a lot out of his two sophomores.

    "They've been here longer than Gray and Neal, but they are not stepping up and here comes the young guys," Williams said. "We didn't do much with Jeremy until spring practice, he came back in the fall, and he's got everything under [control]. Levin's a good athlete, and they are getting things done."

    Gray is perhaps the most intriguing player in the mix. Standing 6-foot-3 and 190-pounds, he hails from Opelika, Alabama and chose the Wolfpack over the hometown Auburn Tigers, spurning his father's alma mater to play at NC State. A terrific athlete and physical talent, most analysts felt he would eventually outgrow the position and end up at free safety, but that's not the case according Williams.

    "He's a great athlete," he said of Gray. "That's why I've got him out there. He's got long arms, he can keep wideouts at the line of scrimmage, and he can jump high to cover bigger receivers.

    "All of you guys want to know how we're going to stop a 6-foot-5 wide receiver. Now we're going to stop them with a 6-foot-5 corner, but now you want to move him to safety."

    Newcomer Levin Neal is also raising eyebrows with his play in fall camp, but that's no surprise to Williams. A Wilmington (NC) Ashley High School standout in football, basketball, and track, Neal was actually recruited to NC State by Williams. Neal's natural athleticism gives him a chance to see the field early as a true freshman.

    "Levin's in a class like when we brought A.J. Davis in here," Williams said. "The funny thing about it is when we brought A.J. in he broke his leg as a freshman, and last year Levin broke his leg in the same place A.J. did. He missed his senior season because of that injury. "He's in the same class as A.J. Davis. He's a talented guy. He's 6-foot tall, 190-pounds, and he's strong... he's well-built. He takes care of business and makes plays."

    Williams admitted that in NC State's attacking-style defense his corners will play a lot of man coverage, and at times they will get beat, but the key will be to put a single play behind them and remain aggressive.

    "If they get beat and they use the right technique, then we don't worry about it," he said. "We just go back in there and play because sometimes they are going to throw it in there on you."

    For NC State to duplicate the success it had defensively in 2004, the Wolfpack will need stellar play from the corner position. Hudson and Davis are proven, but at least two of the remaining players must emerge into quality contributors for the Wolfpack.

  • Pack Pride Top Stories