The fifth entry in our eight-part positional breakdown focuses on the Wolfpack’s rebuilt defensive line. Last week, we discussed quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and the o-line. Tomorrow we’ll talk linebackers, with the secondary and special teams due up later this week.
|DE||M. Lemon||6-4, 267||RS Sr||1||Started last yr. v. Clem.|
|DT||B. Slay||6-3, 290||So||0||Saw 115 snaps in ’09|
|DT||N. Mageo||6-3, 285||Sr||0||Played from scrim. in all 12 last yr.|
|DE||D. Akinniyi||6-4, 255||RS Sr||0||Started 34 at Northeastern|
|DE||A. Augustin||6-2, 260||RS Sr||1||Played in all but one gm. of career|
|DE||D. Cato-Bishop||6-4, 281||Fr||0||Five sacks in spring|
|DT||M. Kuhn||6-4, 303||RS Sr||3||Missed last yr|
|DE||J. Rieskamp||6-3, 235||RS Jr||2||Missed last yr & spring|
The 2009 Wolfpack defense was, by all accounts, not very good. It was the squad’s inability to stop the pass that drew the most contention from pundits and fans — and deservedly so.
State allowed 222 yards per game through the air last year year (9th in the conference) and 7.91 yards per attempt (10th). Interestingly, no defense in the conference saw fewer pass attempts than the Wolfpack’s (337) and no group allowed more accurate passing than that very same defense (62.6%).
It was the very inexperienced and very injured secondary that bore the brunt of the criticism last year, mostly because of statistics like those in the preceding paragraph. But it’s almost impossible to pin responsibility on a single player or unit. Without a reliable pass rush and without consistent rush defense, a team’s secondary is left exposed to well-protected QB and an unpredictable offensive gameplan. And that’s a combination that’s difficult to stop for any team.
Last season’s defensive line — built around seniors Shea McKeen, LeRoy Burgess, Alan-Michael Cash and Willie Young — ranked sixth in the conference in both rushing yards-per-game (139) and yards-per-attempt (3.93); not terrible numbers, but not enough to take the pressure off the weak-link secondary. The defense combined for just six recovered fumbles (last in the ACC), helping to drop the team’s turnover margin to -11 (also last). Getting into the backfield was also a difficult task for the front four. The unit combined for 2.0 sacks per game (5th in the ACC) and 5.4 TFL per game (8th). But both sacks and backfield tackles came in bunches (4 sacks, 10 TFL vs. FCS Murray St., 6 sacks, 8 TFL vs. WF).
Like so much of the last year’s team, the 2010 defensive line is brand spanking new. The consequences of a complete overhaul on a unit as tightly bound as the defensive line are manifold; hope, as always, springs eternal, but with so little experience, mental errors are sure to be a factor.
The new-look line is highlighted by three seniors with a sum of one start at the FBS level. DE Michael Lemon replaced Shea McKeen in the Clemson game last year, recording three tackles, one for a loss. Lemon played in all 12 games and was responsible for an interception that led to State’s only score in the South Carolina game. His counterpart on the other side of the line is end David Akinniyi, a redshirt senior who transfered from Northeastern when their program was shut down. Akinniyi was a three year starter at Northeastern at both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’s potentially the smallest member of the line, but should be the best athlete and a persistent pass-rushing threat. His ability to adjust to a higher level of competition is what will determine whether he gets the nod over RS Jr Jeff Rieskamp, who is recovering from a sports hernia that kept him out all of last season.
Up the middle are tackles Natanu Mageo and Brian Slay. Mageo played in all 12 contests in ’09 after transferring from junior college. He recorded 10 tackles last year, including three for a loss and a sack, and had an interception in the FSU game. Though a few pounds heavier than Mageo, sophomore Brian Slay, has likewise shown good skill at reaching the backfield. In ten games off the bench, he picked up eight QB hurries and a half dozen tackles for loss.
After a few weeks of practice, the aforementioned Rieskamp looks to be the only player battling for a starting spot — and it’s just as likely that he could be on the field early against Western Carolina as Lemon or Akinniyi.
Others expected to contribute include redshirt junior DT J.R. Sweezy (who started last year against Murray State), redshirt junior Markus Kuhn (started three games in ’08), redshirt senior DE Audi Augstin (started bowl game in ’08, has seen action in all but one game of his career) and pass-rushing redshirt freshman DE Darryl Cato-Bishop.