Dwayne Ledford can handle change. He has a track record of making the best of a difficult situation, too.
Both traits will serve Ledford well in his new job as N.C. State’s offensive line coach.
With personnel losses to graduation, injury and suspension, even Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren has no choice but to describe N.C. State’s offensive line situation as a “mess” headed into Saturday’s Kay Yow Spring Game.
Ledford, who coached the past four seasons at Appalachian State, has no problem making adjustments on the fly. None was more difficult than as a player, when he made the switch from defense to offense before his senior year at East Carolina.
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Ledford thought he was a pretty good defensive end. He started every game his junior year at East Carolina in 1996 and helped the Pirates go 8-3. But Steve Logan, his coach at ECU, had a different idea. He wanted to move Ledford to offensive tackle.
“I took that really hard,” Ledford said.
But Logan had success in converting Lamont Burns from the defensive line to offense and was convinced Ledford had a future in the NFL as a blocker.
“He did a really good job on defense but he wasn’t great,” Logan said in a recent interview. “I told him if he was going to further his career, he had all the right attributes to play on the next level on the offensive line.
“I’m not always right but I was right about that one.”
Logan was. Ledford played all three line spots for five different NFL teams over eight seasons between 1999 and 2006.
The reason the switch worked out so well?
“Dwayne was a coach’s dream,” Logan said. “You’d say do this and he just did it. He always got the big picture and he’s bright. That’s what has made him a good coach, too.”
Ledford got an advanced degree in football coaching along the way. One that he’s not afraid to borrow from and use with his new players at N.C. State.
“He has seen so many different styles,” sophomore center Garrett Bradbury said. “He’s showing us what worked best for him and what will work best for us.”
Ledford, who spent the previous four seasons at Appalachian State, has a straight-forward coaching philosophy.
“To me what’s important up front is to play with great speed and great passion and give great effort,” Ledford said.
Effort being the key component. There has been a lot of extra work involved this spring in making the transition from the zone schemes preferred by former line coach Mike Uremovich, who left after three seasons to become the offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois, and what Ledford wants to do.
“He works them really hard but he’s fair,” Doeren said.
The offensive linemen show up early for practice and are always the last ones off the practice field.
There has been a lot of change up front since N.C. State’s last game in 2015. Three senior starters – left tackle Joe Thuney, left guard Alex Barr and center Quinton Schooley – have to be replaced.
Thuney, who is expected to be taken in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft at the end of the month, was the best of the bunch. He was the program’s first All-ACC pick since 2003.
Junior Tony Adams, who started all 13 games at right guard, has been limited in spring practice with a knee injury and won’t play in the spring game.
Right tackle Will Richardson, who started nine games, is serving a university suspension for a DWI charge near campus in November. He will be back for summer workouts but has not been in school during the spring semester.
That leaves senior Bryce Kennedy and sophomore Tyler Jones as the only two linemen in spring practice with starting experience.
Jones started six games, two at left guard and four at right tackle, while Kennedy started one game at left guard.
Ledford, who was the offensive line coach at Appalachian State and run-game coordinator, showed an aptitude for juggling lineups and handling moving parts at Appalachian State. The Mountaineers went 11-2 last season and ranked sixth in the country with 271.5 rushing yards per game.
N.C. State averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game in both 2014 and ’15. Before that, the last time N.C. State had hit the 200-yard mark was 1992.
Uremovich and Ledford have different styles and personalities, but in short, Bradbury said, Ledford “has been awesome.”
“It’s a different style of play,” Doeren said. “(Ledford) really believes in taking the line of scrimmage with double teams. It’s going to take him some time to get it right.”
With a mashup of Bradbury, Jones, Kennedy, redshirt freshman Emanuel McGirt and converted defensive linemen Coult Culler and Deshaywn Middleton, there’s still a lot of tinkering to be done to N.C. State’s line before the season starts.
There’s a good chance for some confusion on Saturday but Doeren predicts there will be an upside to the spring chaos.
“However it looks, it looks,” Doeren said. “It’s going to be a lot better group in time but right now it’s a mess and we’re just trying to get through it.”
Ledford expected a learning curve this spring and it will continue into August practice. But he’s been pleased with how the players have handled it.
“Any type of change is always going to be difficult,” Ledford said. “These guys have been great about it.”