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August 14, 2013
Heading into the 2013 season, not a single NC State player made the preseason All-ACC team, and based on the overall voting none of them really received serious consideration.
But if there was a star to the team based on past experience, senior corner Dontae Johnson would be a leading candidate, and for good reason.
Despite trying to find playing time in a secondary that saw four defensive backs either drafted or signing a free agent contract with the NFL this past April, Johnson earned a full-time starting job in 2012 and had 80 tackles, including 4.5 hits for loss and a memorable fourth quarter sack against Florida State.
New NC State head coach Dave Doeren has only worked with Johnson since the spring, but he has quickly become a fan.
"Everything you want a player to be like is what he does," Doeren stated.
Doeren praised Johnson for having "a consistent camp."
"He's a kid that really coaches himself hard," Doeren said. "What our coaches worked with him on is going to the next play when it's not the way he wanted it to be on the previous play. In the spring he didn't always do that. In the fall he has done that, and that's a hard thing to do as a competitor: forget about a mistake."
Off the field, Doeren appreciates Johnson's quiet leadership.
"Dontae's not a vocal leader," Doeren noted. "He's a guy that shows up and does his job and does it really well and handles himself off the field the right way.
"I don't care what position you are, if you do your job, and you always do what the coaches ask and more, then people are going to respect you and we're going to be able to use that guys in a lot of ways."
Obligatory quarterback battle update
No new news on the battle to be the starting quarterback for NC State between fifth-year senior Brandon Mitchell and redshirt junior Pete Thomas. When asked if there has been any separation between the two, Doeren's answer was, "It depends on what day you're here."
"There hasn't been that three days, 'This is my job'," Doeren said. "There's been a day of where, 'Okay, he's going to take it.' And then the next day the other guy battles. They are really competing right now. I like that. I like the fact that we have competition."
NCSU will have a second preseason scrimmage Saturday, but Doeren said any notion the Pack will name a starter the following day "would be incorrect."
"I wish," he said. "I'll have a better idea."
Less publicly there is also a battle for the third quarterback job between sophomore Manny Stocker, freshman Bryant Shirreffs and preferred walk-on freshman Josh Taylor. Stocker still has a redshirt year available to him, and there is a chance he could use it in 2013.
"There's been talk about it," Doeren said. I can't rule it out. I want to get through this next scrimmage and see what guys do."
Stocker burned his redshirt last season to back up departed starter Mike Glennon, but in five games he only attempted two passes, both incomplete, and ran six times for 20 yards.
Linebacker depth chart taking shape
NC State opens the season with Louisiana Tech Aug. 31, and then on Sept. 19 they will host Clemson. Both teams ran fast-paced, no-huddle offenses last season that averaged over 80 plays a game.
Playing both of those contests while temperatures may still be warm will be a challenge for State's defense, so it's not surprising that Doeren and the defensive coaches are trying to solidify a two-deep at linebacker that could keep the unit fresher.
"We know we are going to have to be able to rotate and play a lot of people," Doeren said.
The emergence of seniors Zach Gentry and Robert Caldwell at middle linebacker is helping NC State achieve that goal. That has allowed the Pack to move sophomore M.J. Salahuddin to weakside, where he'll join junior Brandon Pittman on the two-deep.
On the strongside, the two names are senior D.J. Green and junior Rodman Noel.
Freshmen making impressions
Doeren admitted that he will feel a lot better about the depth chart at running back once sophomore Shadrach Thornton returns from his one-game suspension. However, he is also pleased with what he is seeing from true freshman Matt Dayes.
"When we have Shad back after our first game, I'll feel real good about it because Matt Dayes has really been consistent," Doeren said. "I know he's going to play as a freshman."
Doeren also said that projected starter, redshirt junior Tony Creecy, has been dependable, and he praised junior Milton Hall, who was awarded a scholarship last week, for Hall's work ethic. Doeren also said that freshman Josh Mercer has improved, but fellow classmate Dakwa Nichols has missed preseason camp up to this point with a hamstring injury.
"Sometimes you go through five or six running backs a year," Doeren said. "I hope that's not us, but I've seen that. It depends on our health."
Two other true freshman that have impressed are receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and cornerback Jack Tocho.
"For a freshmen, obviously [Valdes] has got nice size and skill, but he just keeps playing," Doeren said. "He hasn't hit the freshman wall, hasn't had a day where you're like, 'Okay, he's a freshman again.' He just competes and plays. He makes some mistakes here and there, but a guy that just competes."
Doeren added that Tocho "has done a real good job" working out as the nickel back.
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