NC State: Better defense starts up front

08/21/2014 6:28 PM

02/03/2015 7:09 PM

The heat was oppressive Thursday, but N.C. State’s T.Y. McGill quickly warmed to the subject.

Asked about the biggest improvement in the Wolfpack’s defensive line from a year ago, McGill didn’t hesitate in saying, “Leadership.”

McGill, a senior defensive tackle, said he has joined defensive end Art Norman and tackle Thomas Teal in being the leaders of the group. Norman, who led the Wolfpack’s defensive linemen with 508 snaps last season, is a graduate student and Teal a redshirt senior who has played 31 career games.

“We’ve been demanding a lot of work, out of ourselves and our defensive line and our defense,” McGill said, sweat dripping off his nose and chin after practice.

McGill and Norman are quick to say last season’s 3-9 season, and an 0-8 ACC record, battered their pride. Most of the Wolfpack’s defensive statistics were abysmal, leaving Norman to note, “It left a bad taste in our mouth and one we don’t want to taste it again.”

N.C. State, beginning Dave Doeren’s second season as coach, has since gone to a different defensive look – a 4-2-5 alignment – and added such highly rated recruits as defensive end Kentavius Street. But McGill said it’s more than about new schemes or added depth.

“Again, it all goes back to leadership,” he said. “I mean, we have better leaders than we had last year and everyone is buying into ‘we can be as good as we want to be.’ ”

How good can the Wolfpack be? The defensive line figures to play a key role in the overall success – or lack thereof – and Doeren said he plans to use a 10-man rotation in games.

The Wolfpack’s two-deep chart was released Thursday, with Norman and redshirt junior Mike Rose listed as the starters at end, and McGill and freshman B.J. Hill at tackle. Hill, who enrolled early at N.C. State, went through spring practice and has beefed up to 300 pounds.

Sophomore Drew Davis is listed as Norman’s backup and Street is backing up Rose. Inside, Teal is listed behind McGill and sophomore Monty Nelson behind Hill.

Redshirt freshman Kenton Gibbs and freshman Justin Jones are on the depth chart at tackle, and redshirt freshman Pharoah McKever is a reserve at end.

“We started off camp with a lot of depth there,” defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. “We’ve got a lot of guys returning and some good, young players who came in and joined us this summer. We’re pretty excited about that group of guys.”

“We’ve had a couple of guys nicked up that we’ll get back. But I think they’ve come a long way and I think the young guys, (in) learning the defense and the fundamentals and technique of playing defensive line, I think they’ve done a good job of it. They’re not game ready yet, but we’ve still got some time.”

Street, a four-star recruit from Greenville, N.C., has the size and skills college coaches covet at 6-foot-2 and 287 pounds. He had 35.5 tackles for losses in his final two seasons at Rose High and was a disruptive force on the field.

“He’s just learning how to use his body right now,” Doeren said. “He is a freak. The guy can do about anything in the weight room. He’s just got to learn to play within his body and use all those tools.”

The Wolfpack opens Aug. 30 against Georgia Southern, 7-4 last season. The Eagles have a first-year coach, Willie Fritz, and are moving to the Sun Belt Conference and Football Bowl Subdivision.

Kevin Ellison, a sophomore, started six games at quarterback last season and had 118 yards rushing and two touchdowns in Georgia Southern’s 26-20 upset win at Florida. The Eagles also plan to get playing time for quarterback Favian Upshaw, a speedy transfer from Florida International.

“They run a spread option (offense), so it’s going to be a good opening game for us,” Doeren said. “Game one is always kind of a crap shoot.”

With the sun beating down Thursday, McGill couldn’t have been blamed for wishing the opener was this Saturday, not another week away. Not so, though.

“I’m definitely excited for the first game, but I know for myself and our team we have things we have to fix,” he said, smiling. “Even though we’re ready, we’re still not ready for the game, if that makes sense.”

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