There's a good chance at least three N.C. State defensive lineman will have their names called in next month's NFL draft, and six other former starters will be trying to latch onto NFL rosters and practice squads.
It could be the most Wolfpack defensive players in the draft since five were taken in 2006 (which included three first-round picks, led by No. 1 overall Mario Williams) and four in 2012.
Replacing that talent was, understandably, not easy.
The Pack's points per game allowed went up slightly (18.4 to 22.9 from 2005 to 2006; 26.1 to 26.6 from 2011 to 2012) and the yards per game a little more (298.7 to 317.2 in 2006; 354.9 to 404.7 in 2012).
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With so many new starters to break in this spring, head coach Dave Doeren is harping on fundamentals.
"We can’t be a team that doesn’t play with great technique all the time," Doeren said. "The guys play with a lot of spirit, but we’ve got better at consistent technique on the defensive side of the ball with those younger players as they play more reps. A lot of them have played and played in big games, but they haven’t played as much as they’re playing now.”
If this year's defense can improve on last year's numbers (384.2 ypg allowed, 26.0 ppg), here are five of the players that could play a big role.
Trowell, a Durham native, is a wild-card in a secondary that has to improve from a year ago, when it allowed 53.8 percent of all opponent passing plays to be completed (which ranked 126th out of 130 FBS teams). Trowell is moving from wide receiver to corner as a senior, which is exactly what Johnathan Alston did last year for the Wolfpack before starting every game in 2017. But Alston had played both sides of the ball in high school, while Trowell is starting from scratch.
"Maurice has played corner on our punt return every year and has really good feet and hips and tracks the ball well," Doeren said on Wednesday. "He made two really nice plays in the red zone today, so that was good for him to make a couple plays and build his confidence. He’s got incredible make-up speed and that’s the one thing you can’t coach. It’s just going to be a matter of time for him.”
The nickelback is eligible this season as a redshirt junior after transferring from Tennessee. Doeren was quick to praise the Charlotte native, who is vying to replace the now-graduated Shawn Boone.
“He’s got an edge to him. He’s very hungry. It’s very similar to when (Jacoby) Brissett was here because they both had played at their previous universities and had a year where they couldn’t play and were redshirting," Doeren said. "Being on the scout team is a big case of humble pie. He’s exciting to watch out there. He’s made us better at the nickel position immediately.”
Roseboro didn't start but is one most experienced players returning for the Pack. The senior played mostly in pass-rushing situations last year, when the Pack would package together four defensive ends. Roseboro's versatility allows him to line up at defensive tackle, but he figures to start at defensive end. He said he wants to be more consistent in his pass rush, which will be important without projected top-five pick Bradley Chubb around, but Roseboro will also need to help get the other linemen up to speed.
"It comes down to everybody doing their job, everybody understanding the pocket of the quarterback and how to contain quarterbacks," Roseboro said. "A lot of guys are quick-twitch, and once they start putting their moves together, they're going to be OK."
The redshirt senior and safety-turned-240-pound-linebacker has a knack for big plays (his interception return and bulldozing of Louisville's Lamar Jackson will be have a long shelf life on the Carter-Finley videoboard) and understands where multiple position groups should be on the field. He also had 69 tackles (fourth on the team) in just 509 snaps, or 13.8 percent of all of Pratt's snaps ended with him making a tackle. That's a little behind now-graduated Jerod Fernandez (16.4 percent) and just ahead of the also-graduated Arius Moore (10.5).
"I think the game is more mental than physical," Pratt said. "I think that's more of a better outset (when) helping the other younger guys come up and play to the standard of the last defense."
Pratt said the sophomore from New Jersey calls him late at nights with questions about film he's been watching. That's a positive sign coming from a linebacker that may have to start this year after only playing on special teams last season.
"I do whatever I can do to help (Accues and redshirt Isaiah Moore) with however I can help them," Pratt said.