RALEIGH — The general consensus outside the NC State football program is that the Wolfpack’s veteran offense is going to have to put up big numbers this season to help cover for a defense destined to take a step back after losing eight starters, including all four linemen to the NFL.
It’s not an opinion shared by the players on the offense.
While they’re confident in their ability to put points on the scoreboard thanks to the return of quarterback Ryan Finley, three top receivers and an experienced line, it’s not something they believe they’ll have to do in huge numbers in order to win games.
“We’re going to go out and do our job and they’re going to go out and do theirs. It has nothing to do with picking up slack,” graduate center Garrett Bradbury said last week on the opening day of preseason camp. “Yeah, we have a bunch of guys returning on offense, but we have (defensive) guys that played a lot of snaps, too. I trust those guys, and we’re going to be competing all fall.”
While there are multiple holes to fill, especially up front, State’s defense is anything but a total rebuild.
Among the most prominent players moving into starting roles after making major contributions as backups last year are linebacker Germaine Pratt, who made 69 tackles and scored two touchdowns, end Darian Roseboro, a former four-star prospect who arrived at State with a higher rating than first-round draft pick Bradley Chubb, and super-sized tackle Eurndraus Bryant.
Together with returning safeties Jarius Morehead and Tim Kidd-Glass, corner Nick McCloud and a group of young players groomed to be the next man up, they form a unit that is hardly devoid of talent. Its biggest obstacle, especially in an ACC Atlantic Division dominated by perennial national powers Clemson and Florida State, is a lack of experience.
But that, according to McCloud, could end up working in the Wolfpack’s favor since, unlike 2017, its defense won’t be weighed down by the burden of high expectations.
“Last year we had a lot of hype coming in with those linemen, which was well-deserved with the things they did,” said the junior, who had an interception in State’s Sun Bowl victory against Arizona State. “But I feel we really didn’t have the chip on our shoulder like we should have. I feel like coming in this year we have a lot to prove.
“The secondary didn’t play as well last year, so (we) definitely have a lot to prove. The D-line, with all the guys leaving and people talking about how they’re not going to be as good, they have a big chip on their shoulder, too.”
Roseboro, in particular, is motivated to have a big year after being somewhat overshadowed by the now-departed pros Chubb, Kentavius Street, B.J. Hill and Justin Jones.
It’s not as if the 6-foot-4, 283-pound senior spent most of his time standing on the sideline watching. He played in all 13 games, including one start, recording 33 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 2½ sacks, four quarterback pressures and a forced fumble.
He would likely have been picked had he decided to join his now-former linemates in the draft last spring. But he chose to return for his senior season to fulfill the promise he made to his late father of earning his degree and to create a name for himself on the field.
“There are a lot of things I want to accomplish here at State,” Roseboro said. “I want to win an ACC championship. I want to bring something home to Raleigh.”
The Wolfpack came close a year ago by going 9-4 overall and finishing just one game behind Clemson in the Atlantic Division standings. And yet, despite that success and all those NFL draft picks, State only ranked in the middle of the ACC pack in scoring defense, allowing 25.2 points per game.
Based on what he saw during spring practice and in the improvement made by young players sophomore tackle Shug Frazier, junior end James Smith-Williams and sophomore linebacker Louis Acceus, Roseboro believes this year’s defense has the potential to be every bit as good — if not better — than the more heralded group it’s following.
Coach Dave Doeren has equally high hopes for his reloaded defensive group. At the same time, he warned that after less than a week of preseason camp, it’s still too early in the process to make any definitive judgments.
“There’s good competition,” Doeren said. “The guys know what their weaknesses were coming out of the spring, and we saw a lot of physical growth and gain out of several players. Once we get the pads on we’ll have a better feel, but there’s going to be some competition and it’s going to take most of training camp and several scrimmages before I can really answer (any) questions.”