Looking ahead: 2010 Defensive Line

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.

For a refresher on spring football, go here or 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.

'10 Football College Football Tom O'Brien

35 Responses to Looking ahead: 2010 Defensive Line

  1. BJD95 07/05/2010 at 10:09 AM #

    If we’re going to have someone on the DL blow up and become a difference maker, it will be Lemon. I recommend keeping a close eye on him in the early going.

    We MUST have a plus DL to keep the pressure off a mediocre (at best) back seven.

  2. packalum44 07/05/2010 at 10:14 AM #

    I don’t see our d-line being any better than last year but I don’t see it being significantly worse either. Whether its been harped on too much I don’t know or care but our back 7 truly is the key to improving. Not to mention coaching and play calling.

    D-Line will be slightly worse than last year. Linebackers are the second line of defense and they sucked as bad as the secondary last year. I expect them to be WAY better. Not only because of Nate’s return but the freshman will be twice as good. Those young guys actually have talent, (e.g. Manning, Lucas) unlike the d-line which is underwhelming.

    Secondary will be marginally better as well but nothing to write home about.

    Plus Jon is calling the shots so expect some bad ass play calling.

    Net effect is our defense will be better but how many other teams can make that claim? Its important that our improvements are stronger the other teams’ improvements or its all for naught.

  3. packalum44 07/05/2010 at 10:22 AM #

    Lemon does seem to have the most talent (not surprising as he is a former GA player) but is he a future pro? I only ask because we had one pro on the line last year and they stilled sucked huge balls. I think as a whole these guys would not start for many other teams in the ACC except Duke and maybe Wake Forest.

  4. StateFans 07/05/2010 at 11:31 AM #

    This is a great entry.

    DL is huge key for us this year — especially since it is such an ‘unknown’ as we head into it.

    IMHO, Lemon was fantastic when he was on the field last year. HAD to have the highest rate of “making plays” compared to number of snaps of anyone on the DL. He was all over the place.

    Like you guys…I also hear good things about Daryl Cato-Bishop. Will be nice to get him developed this year without having to throw him out there as the starter.

    Agree with Derek’s decision not to discuss/rely on any unproven young names. However, if you must then you can’t sleep on AJ Ferguson at DE.

    We really need some young talent at DT in the coming years. &/or need to find a JUCO stud to help there similar to Mageo the last couple of years.

  5. baxter 07/05/2010 at 12:45 PM #

    In reference to Tenuta calling the plays, can someone explain that to me? I thought he was only the linebackers coach, so don’t the actual calls come from Archer? Or has there been a release on this that says Tenuta will call the plays now and Archer is more supervisor?

    My biggest fear is that our D-Line is just a group of big bodies out there with average talent (as far as pass rush concerns), which might be useful for run stopping, but I felt there wasn’t anywhere near the pass rush I was used to in the past. Without that, can the improved linebacker corp make the difference up? Clearly we can’t expect the nastiness of the past under Amato, but I just have so many doubts about a useful pass rush. Can we really expect the turnovers to increase?

  6. Derek Medlin 07/05/2010 at 1:09 PM #


    I have seen nothing regarding Tenuta calling plays so I would assume that will still be Archer’s job.

  7. howlie 07/05/2010 at 1:50 PM #

    Akinniyi was not only the surprise of the Spring Game, but the best DL during that game.

    I keep praying for another Shaun Price, and Lemon is the one closest to filling that bill. He seems to have that ‘Riverboat Gambler’ knack of getting to the critical spot at the critical moment to make THE play–the mark of a ‘student of the game.’ I’d love to see his ‘learning curve’ accelerate to the top this year.

  8. blpack 07/05/2010 at 9:23 PM #

    I am hopeful the D line steps up this year and plays better. So inconsistent last year, but so was the team. If those involved in bad decisions and pay their dues and then focus on what they should, that would help tremendously. The LBs will be better. The leadership will have to come from the front 7.

  9. tjfoose1 07/06/2010 at 1:49 AM #

    Spot on assessment, IMO. Excellent breakdown Derek.

    I see Rieskamp and Kuhn as the two who could have breakout years. With the off the field problems he had coming in, Lemon is a ‘?’ to me. Was the performance he gave last year about all we can expect, or as he recovers from his past, does he have huge reserves of potential waiting to explode?

    My wildcard is true freshman AJ Ferguson. He spent a year at Fork Union and has the talent and size to play right away. Throw in the international competition with USA Football, and he already has a lot of post high school experience.

    I wouldn’t be surprise to see Ferguson be a major contributor this year. But I don’t know enough yet to know what to actually expect from him.

    “My biggest fear is that our D-Line is just a group of big bodies out there with average talent…”

    This year’s DL is more talented and athletic than last years’ group. They should be more dynamic creating more big plays. Unfortunately, the decision making process they’ve shown so far doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be better.

  10. tjfoose1 07/06/2010 at 3:19 AM #

    “Collaros, much like NC State’s Russell Wilson, is a dual threat QB”

    You must be referring the the 2008 version of Wilson, and not the heavily harnessed 2009 version.

    With a capable backup in Glennon, I hope they loosen up the reigns some in 2010.

  11. Derek Medlin 07/06/2010 at 8:53 AM #

    By heavily hampered you mean the guy who threw for a league-high and fourth nationally 31 touchdowns? Or the guy who threw for more than 3,000 yards?

  12. choppack1 07/06/2010 at 9:11 AM #

    I still think Wilson had tweaked a hamstring or something in that USC game – he didn’t look to have the same explosion he had last year. By the Pitt game he was moving better.

    Regarding our DL – I really hope Sweezey gets his act together. Sweezey made a lot of plays last year too – he had more TFLs and sacks than Lemon.

    I think there’s some good potential in this group…I think this group and the LB’s (assuming a healthy Nate Irving) have the potential to be average to above average.

  13. tjfoose1 07/06/2010 at 12:02 PM #

    Derek, why so ‘chippy’?

    I compliment your article and you come back with a sarcastic, somewhat snarky comment?

    “Heavily Hampered”

    My comment was directed towards the “dual threat” comment… I was referring to the running aspect of Wilson’s “dual threat”. The 2009 Wilson wasn’t much of a running threat when compared to the 2008 version. Any “eye test” of his game performances, or breakdown of that stats, bear that out.

    Whether or not you agree with the tactic to reign in Wilson’s running, it certainly makes easier the game planning and execution of the opposing defense.

    As far as comparing Wilson to Collaros, Wilson racked up 260 total rushing yds in 12 games in 2009 (3 games had negative total numbers, due to sacks). Collaros totaled 344 yds with significant playing time in only 4 games, and mop up duty in 4 others.

    My point was, when referring to 2009, Wilson was not much of a dual threat, while Collaros (when playing), pretty much epitomized it. Thus, to compare their “dual threat” game as similar, in my opinion, was somewhat off the mark. That is, unless as I mentioned, you where referring to the 2008 version of Russell Wilson.

  14. Derek Medlin 07/06/2010 at 12:33 PM #

    Didn’t mean to be chippy tjfoose1,

    I’ve just grown tired of the argument that Wilson was “held back.” I agree that the coaches may have been a bit over the top in their concern about him being injured, but he still had a ridiculously productive season.

    And even if he was “held back,” what difference would it have made in the season if hr wasn’t? If he had rushed for another 150 yards on the season would State have been 8-4?

    My eye test on Wilson last year is that he was under pressure to score 35+ points a game and if he couldn’t do that he knew the team wouldn’t compete. On top of that every defense approached State the same way and that was to not let Russell beat them with his legs.

  15. tjfoose1 07/06/2010 at 12:59 PM #

    Fair ’nuff, Derek.

    I think Wilson was harnessed somewhat in 2009, TOB said as much himself. I never said I disagreed with it. I wanted to see Wilson run more, but I also saw the argument for not doing so. I did not pass judgment.

    I have no idea what our record would have been if Wilson was not ‘held back’. For all I know, he could have broken his leg against SoCar in game 1 and been lost for the season. Can’t play the ‘what if’ game.

    However, what I do know is that the job of the defenses facing Wilson was made tactically and strategically easier.

    If it was guaranteed that Wilson would not get hurt, then yes, I think just the likely threat of a run (it became apparent to coaches and fans alike after a few games that reigning in Wilson was more than just coach speak) could have possibly been good for 1-3 more wins (Wake, FSU, Clemson).

    Exhibit A:

    It was still early in the season when we played Pitt last year. Wannstedt didn’t believe TOB’s coach speak about limiting Russell’s running, that was obvious by the Pitt defensive game plan and Wannstedt’s comments. Otherwise, Baker and Wilson do not have the games they did and Pitt wins that game.

    Wannstedt’s spreading the defense to cover and contain Wilson’s run option allowed for Baker, and Wilson, to have big rushing yards, as well as Wilson’s big passing day too. The quandary faced by the Pitt D fed itself.

    We won the game, but I’d bet my house TOB was not happy with RW running as much as he did. It’s also a safe bet that TOB shared that feeling with RW.

    With a capable backup in 2010, I’m just hoping to see more of a legitimate run threat from Wilson.

  16. tjfoose1 07/06/2010 at 1:08 PM #

    “On top of that every defense approached State the same way and that was to not let Russell beat them with his legs.”

    Later in the season, I do not agree. It did not show itself to me in the tactics of the defenses I watch. But granted, that’s just my assessment/opinion.

    I’m sure our opponents covered certain formations and tactics during practice to handle the run aspect of RW’s game. They were just rarely employed due to lack of need.

  17. Derek Medlin 07/06/2010 at 2:35 PM #

    Russell ran wild against Pitt because Wannstedt was dumb enough to play man-to-man the entire game.

    That’s why they couldn’t stop Russell and got so many dumb interference calls.

  18. choppack1 07/06/2010 at 3:06 PM #

    Statistically – RW was a better QB in 2009 than in 2008.

    He threw for me TDs, more yards, completed a higher % and had a higher QB rating. I think overall, he was better than he was his freshman year.

    Unfortunately, he also threw for more INTs.

    I wonder how we would have looked at last year if our WR’s had made some plays vs. Wake and USC.

  19. tjfoose1 07/06/2010 at 4:31 PM #

    Yes, RW was a better QB in 2009, in many ways for lots of reasons. No doubt.

    I just want opposing defenses to worry more about Wilson running. That’s all I’m saying. I want opposing defenses to have to account for Wilson running the ball as part of our game plan, not just as a move to bail us out of a broken play.

    If a defense has to game plan to stop Wilson from running, that takes away time from the defense prepping to stop other aspects of our offense. If a defense has to tactically accommodate the run threat from Wilson, that opens up weakness in the defense for us to attack.

    It would help our offense, it would help our overall running game, but more importantly, by extension, it would help our defense.

    Think back people, back to 2008… how many games were we able to start controlling the ball late in games through our running game? That wasn’t because our RB’s and OL all of a sudden got better.

    It was because the defenses were tired. Worn down by Wilson’s running and worn down from having to think about, and play to, the threat of RW running, every single play.

    Football game planning is about more than just what you do… it’s about what you make your opponent think you will do, what you can do, and what you might do.

    On the flip side, think about how easy we made it on opposing offenses with our vanilla, basic defense last year, having our DB’s line up 7 yards off the line. How much energy did we make opposing offenses expend with pre-snap reads, adjustments, and tactical counters?

  20. baxter 07/06/2010 at 4:41 PM #

    Agreed, I would personally just like to see him stop throwing it into the stands instead of gaining 2 or 3 more yards on a scramble. I couldn’t believe how many times he gave up on positive yards to avoid a possible hit or poor passing decision. I guess my concern this year is that now that he has been drafted so high, I’d imagine he is going to be a lot more skiddish about getting hit downfield running. Thoughts?

  21. tjfoose1 07/06/2010 at 4:53 PM #

    “I couldn’t believe how many times he gave up on positive yards to avoid a possible hit or poor passing decision.”

    I understand your sentiment, but I can’t argue with that part of his game. I’m sure it was drilled into his head, over and over and over, a big hit is not worth 2-3 yards.

    Sure, if you take it individually, a random ‘normal’ hit may not seem like much… but w/o the tactic of throwing the ball away vs running for a 2-3 yd gain, think about how many hits that would expose RW to over the course of a game, over the course of a season…

    Sure, 3rd and 3, 4th and 2, you’ll take the risk of a random hit while going for the 1st down. But as an SOP, I can’t argue with tactic of throwing it away.

    My points, though not exclusively, are more directed at game planning and play calling.

  22. packsbiggestfan 07/06/2010 at 5:42 PM #

    I would say collectively our back seven may be mediocre at best, but linebackers alone are def. better than mediocre. I heard that Kuhn, Sweezy, Vermiglio, and Bryan are cleared and back in the weightroom etc. This info comes from another player whom I have class with.

  23. packplantpath 07/06/2010 at 8:17 PM #

    TJ, I take what you are saying to mean you would like to see TOB/Bible have a few designed run plays for RW? If so, I can agree with that. I just don’t want him doing as much scrambling after busted plays, since that seems when the risk of injury is higher. A designed run with blocking and him knowing he will run should help his injury odds a bit. Not too often, but it would keep the D honest.

  24. Primewolf 07/06/2010 at 8:32 PM #

    My guess is the DLine will be about the same. Say, lower 1/3 of ACC D Lines for sure.

    However the LB will be much improved. Plus, I think Tenuta will make a difference in the play calling just because he is here.

    Let’s face it if our D sucks again, Archer must be friggin’ fired. In fact, just to make sure there is no confusion, fire his A$$ before the end of the season and promote Tenuta if we continue to play the predictable soft zone.

    Secondary will continue to be themselves, fairly inept, unless the LB are blitzing like crazy and just plain disrupting things.

    I bet we see some 4 LB at times, esp against GT. Go with a single safety, cause 2 doesn’t help much. Either stop the SOBs we are playing or let em go for the big play. Can’t stand the 10 play drives, where the other team averages 7 yards a play and scores in 4 min.

    By the way, our O will be better this year with a decent slot receiver, which we haven’t had in, what, 4 years.

  25. howlie 07/06/2010 at 10:46 PM #

    “baxter Says: “Agreed, I would personally just like to see him stop throwing it into the stands instead of gaining 2 or 3 more yards on a scramble. I couldn’t believe how many times he gave up on positive yards to avoid a possible hit or poor passing decision.”

    That’s what he was coached to do. STAY in the game, and throw it away.
    It was all about keeping him in the game to help us in the end… when he COULD scramble… and was coached, again, not to do it.

    The strategy turned a dual-threat QB into a drop-back, pro-style QB. And he did pretty darn well by that.

    But I just wish we would understand our backup is pretty darn good, and let our starter do ALL of the things of which he was capable. AS FAL used to say, “if you’re going to win, you have to play with your balls hanging out…”

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