MJ Salahuddin emerging for Wolfpack at position of need

Most Wolfpackers watched Coach Doeren’s first spring practice closely in hopes of picking up as much information and indication about the future of NC State football as possible. Of all the nuggets that we got, the most prominent personnel development of the spring was the emergence of MJ Salahuddin at starting middle linebacker.

ESPN profiled Salahuddin’s emergence in this piece today:

M.J. Salahuddin was one of five true freshmen to play for NC State last season. But he toiled largely unnoticed, as a key member on special teams.

He was a backup linebacker, but did not get many snaps there. And when he went into the spring, he was largely unnoticed as well, as a backup on the outside. That all changed in 15 practices.

Salahuddin quickly emerged as a playmaker on a defense in search of one. So much so, that defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable decided to move Salahuddin to middle linebacker before the team’s first spring scrimmage. Salahuddin arrived at NC State as a safety. He had never played middle linebacker in his life.

But he took to the position right away, and ended up with a team-high eight tackles in the team’s spring game last month.

“M.J. is consistent, he has a great motor, he’s vocal,” coach Dave Doeren said. “He can run, and he’s got a good skill-set from a movement standpoint. He’s a tough kid that loves football. He can play outside linebacker as well. Really, Coach Huxtable was trying to find the combination of three guys that were playing the best and who fit best in the middle out of the three between D.J. Green and Brandon Pittman and M.J. We felt like those three guys made the most plays.

“So there are still some guys competing. I know Zach Gentry had a good spring for us as well. But M.J. is just really productive, a high motor, positive guy that we liked having out on the field.”

The Wolfpack had to replace two of their starting linebackers on defense, with Rickey Dowdy and Sterling Lucas gone. Lucas started every game at middle linebacker last season. Salahuddin backed up Rodman Noel on the strongside. But now, Green is ahead of Noel at that spot, and Salahuddin is ahead of Gentry in the middle.

There is plenty more work to be done between now and fall camp, but if spring is any indication, Salahuddin could make a major impact once the season begins.

It is always good news for any player to unexpectedly emerge as a bona fide contributor. It is even better when that emergence happens at a position of weakness for a team; and there no arguing that linebacking play was a significant weakness at NC State in 2012.

With Salahuddin (So) starting in the middle, DJ Green (Sr) is currently listed as the starter at weakside linebacker and Brandon Pittman (Jr) is listed on the strongside. If Salahuddin delivers in accordance with some of the preseason hype, then this group – backed up by Rodman Noel (SLB), Zach Gentry (MLB), and Drew Davis (WLB) should be much improved upon from last season.

For me, one specific mystery at linebacker remains for some discussion – Robert Caldwell. You may recall that Caldwell signed with NC State in 2012 as junior college linebacker from California. He chose the Pack over Iowa and some other FBS programs. When he signed in 2012 Caldwell still had three years of eligibility to play two years, but he played extensively on special teams last year and now has two years available to play one. At 6’3 and 250 pounds and with NC State’s quality & depth issues at the position a lot of fans expected Caldwell to be more competitive for time at linebacker. It appears as though his opportunity to emerge has been replaced by the younger Salahuddin.

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30 Responses to MJ Salahuddin emerging for Wolfpack at position of need

  1. vtpackfan 05/06/2013 at 11:38 AM #

    The late portion of TOB recruiting really set back the progress for this program in the short term.

    That said, I knew we hit a bonafide high caliber player in MJ. He played at Jack Britt and was the defensive leader and go to guy every year on varsity. When he played at the Shrine Game, everyone was struck at the skills/instincts/motor of this player-like “who is this guy”.

    That we burned his RS and didn’t allow him to test his mettle as a LB is truly a poor mark of last years team. We had Dowdy out of position every play and Noel, with the penchant for spectacular, but a nagging problem with consistency and discipline.

    I always have had respect for TOB, and that hasn’t changed completely. I just feel dooped by thinking he and his staff really knew what to look for at practice and win games accordingly. I just think, like in the Military, we had a set Organizational Chart, and replaced “casualties”.

  2. eas 05/06/2013 at 11:48 AM #

    One thing that is consistent with Coach Doeren is he loves vocal players. Look through his interviews and see how much he comments on a players leadership/vocal/motivation ability.

    We are fairly weak but I am excited for the season. I really thing we will see a more excited and fun season. Even if our record doesn’t reflect it, I just see a very lively and energetic team/coaches.

  3. howlie 05/06/2013 at 12:57 PM #

    (good points, eas)

    I’m not sure I can agree with the article that “we should be better at the postion if…”

    I think, rather, the DL could be very, very good (I’m hesitating from saying spectacular) & THAT will have more to do with making our LB’s [potentially] improved.

    One key at LB will be maintaining LB health–to ‘lay the lumber’ instead of receiving it. The depth might not be there–although, Drew Davis really stood out at the Spring game in a [supposed] ‘back-up’ role.

  4. BJD95 05/06/2013 at 1:26 PM #

    We will be a terrible, awful, putrid football team for the next two seasons. But some bright spots will emerge, and hopefully we are laying the foundation for playing the right way and finally, truly competing for championships.

  5. Virginia Wolf 05/06/2013 at 2:26 PM #

    I agree, we have a long way to go, but with our schedule, we shold win at least 7 games.

  6. Wufpacker 05/06/2013 at 2:31 PM #

    “We will be a terrible, awful, putrid football team for the next two seasons. But some bright spots will emerge, and hopefully we are laying the foundation for playing the right way and finally, truly competing for championships.”


    Gotta break some eggs…

  7. Greywolf 05/06/2013 at 2:37 PM #

    Gloom, despair and agony on me… “terrible, awful, putrid football team” Tell us what your really think, BJD.

  8. TheCOWDOG 05/06/2013 at 5:16 PM #

    Beej ain’t been right since eighteen hunert ‘n fourty-nine .

    Besides, he’s the best durn mojo setter we got. Nothin’ wrong with startin’ early.

  9. BJD95 05/06/2013 at 6:21 PM #

    It’s basically last few years’ talent, minus the NFL-caliber QB and with absolutely no depth. Learning a new system.

    If that doesn’t spell woeful to you, then I think you need Google translator. 😀

  10. mak4dpak 05/06/2013 at 7:38 PM #

    I will be an optimist about the upcoming season, and expect some real positives, and maybe even a bowl to play for. NOT IMPOSSIBLE!

  11. sholtzma 05/06/2013 at 7:52 PM #

    MJ came in as a safety?! Since when? I thought he was always a LB…

  12. Master 05/06/2013 at 8:08 PM #

    I don’t agree with BJD, but I’m just an optimist. I think this year’s team will be a little like one of Sheridan’s early teams. Those teams had unheralded talent that was motivated to play above their skill level by a great coach who exuded supreme confidence. The biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s team will be between the ears and the coaching talent that motivates them. That right there makes them better than last year’s team

  13. BJD95 05/06/2013 at 8:31 PM #

    Sheridan’s first team is the last time I remember being a true optimist. I asked my dad if we could go to the bowl if we made one. Seriously…that’s the longest and hardest I ever heard my dad laugh.

    He said yes and we did. Kinda wish we stayed home, though. F-cking dirty assed cheating castrated turkeys…

  14. WTNY 05/06/2013 at 9:35 PM #

    Wow BJD. Thanks for the bad memory. That was one long ride back to the hotel on MARTA.

    But ’86-’87 sure had some high spots!

  15. JohnGalt78 05/06/2013 at 10:29 PM #

    Guess I’ll give my tickets away.


    Now, if we have a single UVA- type effort, then I’ll check out. But until then, I’m optimistic.

  16. Fastback68 05/06/2013 at 10:38 PM #

    I’m glad other people keep mentioning Sheridan and the complete change in course in State’s program upon his arrival. I suffered through The General’s last 3-8 team my freshman year. I have a good feeling it will happen with this new staff. I’m not big on star ratings but I believe this staff obtained the same number of 3 star commits in six weeks as O’brien did over ten and a half months. I remember the florida player running for 80 yards in TOB’s first defensive play and him stating after the game that one player was out of position. My thought was TOB had 6 months to get that player in the right position. An over simplification perhaps but it’s not much different than having a punter who doesn’t comprehend directional punting. Those sequences reminded me of the 21-16 loss to those same castrated turkeys on opening night under Amato. Frank Beamer chewed out a player on the opening kickoff for a mistake. The cameras panned to the player sitting on the bench moments later with Beamer having a one on one chat. I hope we have the same kind of coach this time around. I remember that 1986 one point Peach Bowl loss by the way but that was a fantastic season for me. Motivation, discipline and hard work could turn 2013 into the same kind of year. I know it will largely depend on the QB. Erik Kramer where are you when we need your mojo the most.

  17. ryebread 05/06/2013 at 11:52 PM #

    fastback68: I sat in the end zone where the RB scored on that opening hand off of the Central Florida game. My worst fears (and I’d been adamantly and vocally against hiring TOB) were realized on that play. Our guys were totally unmotivated and unprepared to play for the home opener of a new coaching staff.

    It was the first of many emotionless performances under TOB. I’m so glad that era is behind us.

    What I want to see this year, more than anything else, is a high level of effort. I want to see it game in and game out. I don’t care if we get out talented, or if we run out of gas in the second half (which I absolutely think will happen given our lack of depth and style of play). I do not want to see us come out flat, emotionless, passive and looking like we’d rather be somewhere else.

    If we do that and play to our strengths, given the weak schedule and the low barrier of entry for a bowl, then we will go bowling. By any measure, given what we lost and what is coming back, that’d be a successful year for the team.

  18. vtpackfan 05/06/2013 at 11:56 PM #

    Agreed on Beej assessment halfway.

    This season will have all the trade marks of misery coupled with a few bright spots.

    Disagree with year 2. We will burn many RS and get the depth chart manageable. Brissette at QB and Copland (transfers from WV) will provide a much needed component to the arsenal.

    HC and his staff will shift the paradigm in many facets from year one to two. This year is going to be amazingly difficult to pull together into any semblance of BCS football. I never thought it was imaginable to leave the cupboard as depleted as it was when CTC left. I guess it is just Jed Fowlers last laugh at NCSU.

    Reiterate the fact that Salahuddin was the last great recruit we nabbed. He was always smallish for LB and too slow for DB by recruiting services, but he is just a solid football player who will be dependable and always provide leadership qualities. You can’t ask more of a young man when your talking full blown rebuilding. I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if he ends up playing Sundays and succeeding as fast as RW.

  19. Dogbreath 05/07/2013 at 12:37 AM #

    This’ll be the worst and overall least talented squad we’ve fielded since Jeff Kuh and Tom Loughlin manned the tackle spots in 96.

  20. Texpack 05/07/2013 at 6:48 AM #

    I think we’ll do better with motivated energized mediocre talent than we did with un-motivated, un-energized mediocre talent.


  21. blpack 05/07/2013 at 12:19 PM #

    Easy schedule, lots of 50-50 games. If we can win our share…
    No depth, new system, new QB. Lots of potential problems.
    We will have to compare and contrast the UCF game with the La Tech game this fall. I hope the outcome is brighter.

  22. TheCOWDOG 05/07/2013 at 1:10 PM #

    Peeps…Y’all are making way too much out of ” learning ” a new system.

    Terminology, yes, but they’ve been learning this thing since January. Come August, all but the incoming Frosh will know where they need to be.

    As for the rest…there is no crushing drop off of talent from last year, if Thomas is of any resemblance to his CSU days.

    Speaking of resemblance, there won’t be any to the former predictability, either.

    BTW. Who says there’s no depth ?

  23. BJD95 05/07/2013 at 2:30 PM #

    That 86-87 team wasn’t completely bereft of talent…they just hated playing for the previous coach. And they had the aforementioned NFL-caliber QB. EK is still one of my five all-time favorite Wolfpackers.

    We have two definite “disaster” classes in the pipeline. When that happens…no depth.

  24. 44rules 05/07/2013 at 4:51 PM #

    86-87 was a great year, despite the non-UNC cheaters in Atlanta. That was the first bowl game I ever went to, with the last one being RW’s finale in Orlando. I suffered through two years of Tom Reed 3-8s. Sheridan is still on my sub-deity list.

  25. Greywolf 05/07/2013 at 11:00 PM #

    Mike Rose, very fast big man, was on 1st D at DE, Jarvis Byrd has been moved to safety and Salahudden to MLB. Those 3 moves greatly increase the team speed on defense. The QB who can protect the football.

    We won’t have a QB who can terrify a defense this year but we don’t need one to win football games if our defense shows up.

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