RALEIGH, N.C. -- Each day this summer, Bradley Chubb and B.J. Hill would stride into the weight room hoping to impress. Their racks were side by side, and before each set, Hill would peer over at his slightly smaller teammate on NC State's defensive line and grin.
"Hey Chubb," he'd say. "How much are you doing over there?"
The honest answer was that Chubb wasn't benching quite what Hill could do, a reasonable deficiency for a guy who weighs about 40 pounds less. But that didn't mean Chubb was willing to give up on the challenge, so each day he'd try to add a little more.
"He's a little stronger now," Chubb said, "but I'm going to catch up."
By the start of fall camp, Chubb maxed out at 390 on bench. Hill lifted a whopping 455. And right behind them, the rest of the defensive line followed suit.
Five NC State defensive linemen added at least 40 pounds to their bench press. Six added at least 80 pounds to their squat.
The competition was fierce, and the way Chubb sees it, made everyone better.
"The thing that the defensive line always brought to the weight room was energy," Chubb said. "It was me, BJ, Justin Jones -- all of us pushing each other. Then other position groups saw it, and the whole weight room would be yelling, going nuts for each other."
NC State's defensive line is looking to carry that mindset to the field this season, with the big boys up front leading the charge on a defense that could be among the ACC's best -- even if the rest of the country isn't paying particularly close attention.
"We want to be one of the top D-lines in the nation," Hill said. "It starts with us. We went through summer workouts busting our butts to be the best we could be."
NC State supporting redshirt freshman DE James Smith-Williams in the weight room. pic.twitter.com/FzYX0i0eAm
— ESPN ACC (@ESPN_ACC) August 30, 2016
The truth is, NC State's line may already have been one of the nation's best. While the unit overall was a mixed bag at times last year, the line was spectacular. Against Power 5 foes, NC State ranked third in the ACC in pressuring the opposing QB without blitzing, trailing only Boston College and Clemson -- two of the nation's marquee units. The line made contact with the opposing quarterback on 22 percent of its non-blitz rushes, eighth-best in the Power 5. Of FBS teams, only BC and Clemson had a higher percentage of rushing attempts stopped for a loss or no gain.
And yet, for all that success, Hill -- with just five votes -- was the only member of NC State's defensive line to even get a vote for the preseason All-ACC team.
Perhaps a chip on their respective shoulders was good motivation.
"We wanted to be bigger, thicker, faster," Hill said. "We're way bigger now, and we're getting way more knock back on our offensive line."
Hill, who checks in at 313 at the moment, said he's watched film from last season and thinks he "looked like a stick figure." Chubb bulked up to about 285 before shedding a few pounds to maximize his speed. Jones tacked on 20 pounds.
"Eating a lot was a big factor," Hill said, dining at a local restaurant before head coach Dave Doeren's weekly radio show. The special was a bottomless pasta bowl, of which Hill planned to test the limits.
Roseboro and Street -- both hefty last year -- slimmed down a bit to be more flexible and withstand the rigors of a full game. It was necessary against NC State's new tempo offense during practice, but there was more to it.
Each day, when the line leaves the unit meeting room, the players tap a sign that reads "Finish." That's the mantra in 2016.
Last year, the Wolfpack led Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State, but lost all three games. Chubb said the team got a feel for how far behind the conference elite it was, and so this offseason was all about closing that gap -- in the weight room, in the film room and on some oppressively hot summer days on the practice field.
"They tried to break us," Chubb said of the strength staff, pointing to Friday drills that included pushing a sled with two 45-pound weights attached for 30 yards, three times at tempo. "We all dreaded it."
When it was over, however, the work appeared to be worth it.
Doeren said this year's defensive front will be the best he's had at NC State, with Chubb -- cousin of Georgia running back Nick Chubb -- leading the charge.
"I don't think people realize, he's going to be special," Doeren said. "We've had good D-linemen, but we haven't had a guy where [teams] had to change their protections because of him. When you played Vic Beasley or some of those guys, there wasn't a play you threw the ball you didn't know where he was. Bradley is that type of guy. If he's playing at his best, he could be that good."
Hill said the team enjoys ribbing Chubb about his more popular cousin at Georgia or his brother, who starred at Wake Forest and is now with the Los Angeles Rams -- "We tell him all the time he's the worst Chubb," Hill said -- but Doeren predicts the spotlight will find NC State's Chubb this season.
Not that the Wolfpack are looking for attention. They're all about business, as this offseason proved. But the numbers were already good, and if Chubb and the rest of the defense takes another step forward, they will be impossible to ignore.
"We're not getting national attention, but we've got to use that as motivation to be one of the best units in the country," Chubb said. "Hopefully the world will see I'm a great player -- that the rest of this team has great players. That attention will come."