I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m ready to talk football. The basketball hype has gotten to be a little much and there isn’t a lot more to say about Debbie Yow, at least not yet.
During the next few weeks leading up to Sept. 4 we’ll be taking a closer look at the 2010 football team, going position by position to try and give everyone an idea of what to expect from the Wolfpack.
Let’s get things started by looking at one of the two most important groups on the team, the defensive front. The success or failure of this group will be huge if the defense — and team — hopes to be any better than it was in 2009. Speaking of last year’s group, who can forget the lackluster performance of the NC State defense week after week last season? Many of the problems were blamed on the back seven of the defense and especially the secondary, but the defensive line did not end up being as dominant as many thought it would be.
Opponents rushed for nearly four yards per attempt and almost 140 yards per game on the ground while collecting 32 sacks. Those numbers were all better than in 2008, but it’s tough to find a ton of positives when you look at last season’s numbers. Let’s move on to the 2010 edition.
If nothing else, NC State fans will have plenty of new faces to learn along the defensive line in 2010. All four starters from last year are gone. The four most talented players, at least in my view, are Michael Lemon, Markus Kuhn, J.R. Sweezy/Brian Slay and Jeff Rieskamp. That lineup may never see the field after the poor decision making made by both Kuhn and Sweezy during the spring, but if I had to pick four to start I think I’d go in that direction.
Lemon and Rieskamp both bring versatility to the end spots and Rieskamp has the potential to be All-ACC if he can stay healthy. Tom O’Brien raved about him two years ago so State fans can hope he returns to that form. Lemon should once again be a solid, steady performer who can anchor one end spot. Audi Augustin, who has been at NC State since at least 2000, will get snaps like he always does I won’t say he’ll make a huge impact because I haven’t seen him do it yet and have no reason to believe he’s improved that much from last season to this one. Kuhn, who looked massive the last time I saw him, should be much improved. The year off likely helped his football knowledge and his….umm…brush with stupidity earlier in the year hopefully narrowed his focus. The same goes for Sweezy. If he can put the dumb stuff behind him and focus on football he can most certainly start. He showed numerous glimpses last season and if he can become more consistent he can be an every down player.
O’Brien hasn’t made any comments on Sweezy, Kuhn George Bryan and Jake Vermiglio’s mistake but I would expect something more from him by the first week of August. It will probably be a fairly standard “we’re not going to put up with this” song and dance and hopefully, at least for the defensive line’s sake, the issue will fade away.
One area where the 2010 defensive line may be better is with regard to depth. Most of the guys who could see significant snaps have all seen snaps before. Brian Slay and Natanu Mageo should be ready to contribute and senior transfer David Akinniyi should be able to help along younger players Darryl Cato-Bishop and Ricky Dowdy.
If the entire group stays healthy the defensive line could end up being a positive group on the 2010 defense. Assuming Sweezy and Kuhn are allowed back by August (I’d be shocked if they weren’t) I expect this front four to be better against the run than last season. I’m not sure yet if the pass rush will be as good, but the potential is there.
I’m not huge on numbers when looking at defensive players. I’m much more of an eye test kind guy. If a player passes the eye test and shows up each and every Saturday then more often than not your team will be alright. Several guys along this year’s defensive line pass that eye test. That may mean nothing come October but it’s a heck of a lot better than having the opposite feelings.
Another exciting thing to consider is that the defensive line will be tested twice before it faces Georgia Tech’s option attack in week four. UCF returns a 1,000-yard rusher and four starters along its offensive line and Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros comes back to lead a high-powered offense coming off a dominant season. Collaros, much like NC State’s Russell Wilson, is a dual threat QB and should be the perfect tune up for Josh Nesbitt.
Most consistent contributors: Michael Lemon, Jeff Rieskamp, Audi Augustin
Most improved: Markus Kuhn, Darryl Cato-Bishop
Player to keep your eye on: Darryl Cato-Bishop
I don’t expect any of the incoming freshmen to make an instant impact on the lineup or see significant snaps, but I’m sure at some point they will. Whether it’s injuries, stupid decisions by the guys I’ve already mentioned or one of the new guys stepping up, a name I haven’t named yet will see some snaps. Check out the list of incoming guys here.
Later this week I’ll take a look at the linebackers and give some thoughts on what they need to do in 2010. Pick your starting defensive line in the comments section. Stay tuned for more.