RALEIGH — N.C. State is counting on a different group of defenders to make plays this season.
Over the years, the linebacking corps has been the strength, thanks to current NFL players Nate Irving, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning. Last season, the secondary was counted on more heavily as David Amerson and Earl Wolff were expected to lead the defense.
This season, more responsibility falls on the defensive line.
Weve always believed that we lead the team, defensive end Art Norman said. I feel like we set the tone in practice and even more so in games. We had a lot of talent behind us the last few seasons, but we set up a lot of things for those guys.
I think the team is feeding off us right now, so we know we need to set the tone in every game.
The Wolfpack return three players in Thomas Teal, T.Y. McGill and Darryl Cato-Bishop. Teal and Cato-Bishop started all 13 games in 2012, while McGill started 10. Their biggest loss was Brian Slay, who had six tackles for loss and two sacks.
Along with those pieces, Norman, Colorado transfer Forrest West and sophomore Mike Rose will play vital roles. McGill, who will start at tackle along with Teal, believes that stability has helped the line improve in the offseason.
Right now everything is looking great, McGill said. At the end of the day, the D-line provides energy for the team and thats what we want to do. ... We keep coming out here and giving our all and getting better every day.
No position defensively has more depth than the ends. Last seasons sack leaders Cato-Bishop (6.5) and Norman (5.5) return. Theyre joined by West and Rose, giving the Wolfpack four potential starters battling for two positions.
West suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the win over Florida State. Norman opened last season as a reserve but still finished second on the team in sacks and led Wolfpack defenders in quarterback hurries.
Last season was fun, but obviously a lot has changed, Norman said. Ive been here four years and were learning things that we never knew before. Weve had a lot of guys step up and I think thats going to make us better.
The depth and talent might seem like a good problem, but one actual issue right now for first-year coach Dave Doeren seems to be getting everyone healthy before the season starts on Aug. 31 against Louisiana Tech.
We dont have a lot (of depth) right now, theres too many of them watching practice, he said. But when theyre all healthy, well have some good depth. We just have a lot of guys with training camp bumps and bruises that werent out there.
One example is Teal, who practiced Monday but was not available for post-practice interviews because he needed treatment following the workout.
Its part of fall camp, Doeren said. Sometimes you have guys banged up, sometimes you dont.