RALEIGH — Dave Doeren likes to talk about defense.
The Wolfpack’s new coach spent 16 seasons as an assistant on the defensive side of the ball, including stints as a coordinator at Kansas and Wisconsin.
You can get Doeren going on formations and blitz calls, but he can reduce defensive philosophy to one concept.
“It’s being tough,” Doeren said.
N.C. State’s defense had moments of toughness last season. The Wolfpack held four teams to 10 points or fewer, and shut out Florida State in the second half of its 17-16 upset.
It also had too many lapses, especially early in games. Slow starts sank the Wolfpack against Tennessee, Miami and North Carolina. Each team put up at least 21 points in the first quarter.
“The word was inconsistent,” senior linebacker Zach Gentry said.
With a new coordinator and only four regular starters — three on the line — back from last year’s defense, N.C. State is essentially starting over in Doeren’s first season.
Doeren went young when he hired his assistants with the exception of defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, who begins his 31st season in coaching. Huxtable, 56, has been a coordinator in the ACC at Georgia Tech and UNC.
The transition from Mike Archer and Jon Tenuta, who ran last year’s defense, hasn’t been as drastic as the overhaul on offense. The previous staff and new one both use a 4-3 scheme, with four down linemen and three linebackers. Still, there will be differences.
“Nobody blitzes as much as coach Tenuta,” senior linebacker D.J. Green said. “That’s the obvious one.”
Gentry said another has less to do with scheme but rather the camaraderie of this defense. There are no defined stars, like last year’s group with corner David Amerson and safety Earl Wolff, a pair of NFL draft picks.
“We are all tight and we are all friends,” Gentry said. “It’s a different atmosphere than it used to be. I think that will make a difference.”
Huxtable, who helped Pittsburgh rank 16th in the NCAA in total defense last season and 21st in scoring (State was 68th and 52nd, respectively, in the same categories), has been impressed with how quickly the players have picked up the scheme.
“They’ve done a remarkable job,” Huxtable said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, obviously, but we’re getting there. I’ve liked the way the guys have come to work at practice.”
Doeren expects the defense, whose strength and experience will be up front, to “chase the football, beat blocks and tackle in space.”
There will also be a certain simplicity and straightforwardness to the defense, which should be improved with the return of Green — a starter in 2011 — from an NCAA suspension.
“It’s not how many different calls you have, it’s how well you run the calls you have,” Doeren said.
Huxtable shares a primary philosophy with Doeren.
“We want 11 guys playing with a high energy, playing fast, physical, tough and getting the ball,” Huxtable said.
“That has nothing to do with 4-3 or 3-4, it’s just about the basics and fundamentals of defense.”
It won’t take long to see where the Wolfpack’s defense stands. Louisiana Tech, the opening opponent, led the country in total offense last season. Clemson, the third opponent, ranked ninth in total offense.