Q&A with NC State defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable

NC State made some strides on defense last season, and the marked improvement on that side of the ball coincided with a strong finish to the year overall. This spring, however, the Wolfpack need to replace several key starters up front, so defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable has his work cut out for him. We caught up with him to see how far along the D is this spring.

David Hale: How has the defense looked overall so far this spring?

Dave Huxtable: I've seen our unit do some good things. We're young at some positions up front, but we've got good young players that I know throughout the spring are going to continue to improve and get better fundamentally and with technique and understanding the scheme. So I'm excited about the group and very encouraged.

Hale: You lost a bunch of veterans -- Art Norman, Thomas Teal, T.Y. McGill -- up front. How big a job is it to replace those guys?

Huxtable: Those guys, all seniors and had played a lot of football here, and played like seniors for us, so we're surely going to miss them. But we've got a good group of young players now who have to fill those shoes, and football's a game of repetition, so through the reps in the spring and summer and fall camp, we have to get them season-ready.

Hale: It's early yet, but is there anyone who's jumped out to you as having added some good weight or made some big strides since last season ended?

Huxtable: Kentavius Street had an awesome offseason program and has just gotten bigger and stronger. I'm really excited about the things he's going to be able to do for us. B.J. Hill up front was a true freshman who started several games for us last season and had a really good offseason program and has gotten bigger and stronger and put some weight on. A lot of those young guys will continue to do that. Darian Roseboro was a kid who enrolled early, and between January when he got here and the start of the season, he's got several months to get bigger and stronger in the weight room and to be with our defensive line coach and get better as a football player. So there's a lot of guys up there we're really excited about, but we know we've got some work to do with them.

Hale: One other guy on the line that is always the subject of a lot of speculation due to his physical attributes is Pharoah McKever. How's he progressing?

Huxtable: He worked very hard in the offseason. He's gotten stronger, put on a little weight and gotten bigger, but he's still got a long way to go in the weight room in gaining some strength. He's a wide receiver we moved to defensive end, and he did a nice job for us in certain situations last year. We're looking forward to seeing improvement from him this spring and summer to be a player for us in the fall.

Hale: You got a lot of quality reps from freshmen at linebacker last season. How big of an asset is that now?

Huxtable: Jerod [Fernandez] and Airius Moore got valuable reps as freshmen, and already this spring are much more comfortable in understanding the defense and the speed of the game at this level. The two of those guys combined will get better and give us good play at that Mike linebacker position. At the Will, we lost Rodman Noel and Brandon Pittman, so we've got a new group of Will linebackers that had great offseason programs in the weight room, but now every rep is so valuable in the spring and summer to get ready. Dravious Wright is back at our nickel position, and he really played well for us the middle to latter part of last season. He's had really good practices this spring. And we've got Tim Buckley back at that position and James Smith-Williams and Freddie Phillips, who just enrolled in January -- two young kids who have shown some promising things. We're very excited about that linebacker group and the nickels.

Hale: You're in your third spring with NC State now. Does it feel like, even with the younger guys up front, there's more of a comfort level on defense than there had been in years past?

Huxtable: It is more comfortable. The guys who have been here with us understand the philosophy and exactly what we're looking for. But with several new and young players, our older players have to provide great leadership for them, teach them the way, and I think our older guys right now are doing a good job of that.