While the departure of former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson has dominated the offseason headlines surrounding the program, the Wolfpack’s defense must also move forward without its top playmaker from 2010.
Despite the loss of linebacker Nate Irving, the team’s second-leading tackler, NC State’s linebackers should still be one of the strongest groups in the ACC.
In fact, if you ask Terrell Manning, he thinks they’ll be one of the best in the country -- again.
“After last year, I will step out on a limb and say we had the top linebacking corps in the nation last year,” Manning said. “I might get criticized for that, but that’s my personal opinion. With the things that me and Audi learned last year, and we’re taking in a great athlete in D.J. Green, I feel like he’ll pick up on it fast and we’ll build upon what we had last year.”
“It’s definitely exciting,” he said. “With the loss of Nate, and Nate being a great player, I would definitely say that Nate was the slowest linebacker we had (he laughed). We’ve gotten a lot faster.”
Manning said Green is the fastest of the group. Green, a true sophomore, moved from safety to strongside linebacker this spring and could make a name for himself this fall after being one of the team’s most consistent special teams players last year. Audie Cole moved to the middle linebacker spot vacated by Irving, and should also be one of the top linebackers in the conference. Last year, Cole tied for the team lead in tackles with 97, and his 10.5 tackles for loss ranked third on the team. Nobody on defense played more snaps (809) than Cole.
Manning ranked fourth on the team in tackles with 76 for the season, tied for second in sacks (5) and had two caused and two recovered fumbles.
Still, he said he can do better.
“I feel like I’ll definitely have a good year,” he said. “I just need to meet the expectations of myself more than anybody. I set the bar pretty high for myself.”
And the rest of the defense.
In 2009, NC State ranked No. 99 in the country in scoring defense, allowing 31.17 points per game. Last year they ranked No. 45, allowing 23.23 points per game. Manning attributed part of the improvement to the hire of Jon Tenuta as linebackers coach. Manning said Tenuta has helped the group “big-time.”
“He’s probably one of the best coaches I’ve been around as far as understanding the game of football,” Manning said. “He’s taught me so much. He’s one of those guys you can’t replace. He definitely has slowed the game down for me.”
While there are plenty of reasons for NC State fans to be excited about the defense this season, it’s the offense and the loss of Wilson that has outsiders wondering if the Pack can repeat and/or build upon last year’s nine-win season. Quarterback Mike Glennon will be in his first season as a starter, but Manning said he likes what he has seen so far from the offensive side.
“I tell the offensive guys, we just need y’all to put up a few points, and the defense will win the games and the championships around here,” Manning said. “I say that jokingly, but we fully expect nothing but greatness out of both sides of the ball. After seeing the offensive guys, they’ve been working probably twice as much as we have, and they’re going to come prepared to play and there won’t be too much of a drop-off. Of course we have a different quarterback, who plays a lot different. He’s a better thrower, but you lose one that was a better runner. I feel as if Mike Glennon is going to make the plays he’s supposed to make.”
Ditto for the defense.
“I think we can be better,” Manning said. “Our secondary has grown intensely, just overwhelmingly they have grown up. They’ve been playing together for a while now. As everybody knows, sometimes it was a question mark whether they were going to come to play. The front seven was always going to play good. This year they’re going to be a very strong asset to our team as well as our front seven. I feel like with the whole defense bringing it, we should definitely be good. Of course you lose Nate, and everybody has to pitch in and make up for the plays we’re losing.”