Every team enters the season with some question marks, but this NC State team enters with less than usual. With that being said, one of the biggest unknowns of this Wolfpack team is whether or not the secondary will be a liability,or a strength.
NC State returns one of their two starters at cornerback from last season in Mike Stephens. He brings a ton of experience to the Wolfpack secondary. Despite missing the bowl game to injury, Stevens played more snaps than any other returning Wolfpack defensive player (805). Stevens played 4 games at corner as a true Freshman, and has started 22 games there over the past two seasons. You might remember Stevens best for his interception returned for a touchdown against Clemson last season. Having a Senior with Stevens experience returning in 2017 is a huge upside for the Wolfpack secondary.
The question is who will fill the shoes of Jack Tocho on the other side of the field at cornerback. Tocho was a 4-year starter, who led the team last season in pass breakups (9), and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings this summer.
Currently it seems as if Sophomore Nick McCloud has the edge on the other cornerback spot. McCloud was one of just two true Freshman to see action from scrimmage on defense last season. He saw 184 snaps at corner last season, with a majority of those coming in the final two games of the season (UNC & Vanderbilt), after starter Mike Stevens went down with an injury. McCloud started in the bowl game against Vanderbilt, collecting 7 tackles and breaking up 3 passes.
Former Wolfpack Wide Receiver Johnathon Alston sat out last season, and practiced with the defensive scout team, to prepare for his new role at Cornerback this season. Alston played defense in high school at safety and outside linebacker (he was actually the #29 outside linebacker in the nation), so he isn’t completely foreign to this side of the ball. Doeren has said on numerous occasions that Alston is adjusting well to Cornerback, and is pushing McCloud.
NC State lost a stud at the Free Safety position in Josh Jones, who was drafted in the second round by the Green Bay Packers. Jones led the team in tackles (109, interceptions (3), and was second on the team in pass breakups (8). RS-JR Dexter Wright is penciled in as the starter at Free Safety. Wright only saw action at special teams as a RS-Freshman, and played 96 snaps at Safety last season. Though he lacks experience, Doeren has commended his work ethic and expects good things from him. You might remember Wright best for recovering the blocked punt in the Notre Dame game for a touchdown.
Senior Shawn Boone was the starter last season at Strong Safety, but it looks like he has been moved to Nickelback to fill the shoes of Dravious Wright. Boone brings solid Senior leadership to the secondary, and packs a mean punch every time he tackles the opposition. I don’t think that the coaching staff would have made this move, had they not been confident in RS-Sophomore Jarius Morehead to fill his shoes well at Strong Safety. Morehead saw action in 8 games last year at Safety, and started against Fighting Irish, and took advantage of the opportunity, picking up an interception.
So, in my opinion, it’s hard to answer the question posed in th title of the article. I think you have confidence in what you are going to get out of Mike Stevens and Shawn Boone, but Nick McCloud and Jarius Morehead enter the season with very little experience, and they are young. Does this mean that McCloud and Morehead can’t excel and be a pleasant surprise? Absolute not. Only time will tell. The Senior leadership, talent, and experience of Stevens and Boone, two players that could possibly end up on NFL rosters next year, gives me even more confidence in the development of the younger bucks.