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August 23, 2013
One look at NC State senior defensive backs Dontae Johnson and Jarvis Byrd could be misleading. Johnson, the fourth-year from Pennington, N.J., measures 6-2 and 195 pounds, while Byrd, a fifth-year senior from Pahokee, Fla., checks in at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds.
Based on looks, the casual observer would probably expect Byrd to line up at cornerback and Johnson at safety when the defensive huddle breaks, but that would actually be the opposite of where the two play in the Wolfpack defense now.
Johnson moved from the back line to full-time cornerback last season, although he served as the team's nickelback in the previous year. He finished 2012 with 80 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and one sack, and four pass breakups while starting every game.
Meanwhile Byrd has been a cornerback up until this spring when the new staff put him at free safety. He appeared in four games last season, but logged just nine snaps from scrimmage and no statistics after he successfully recovered from his second major knee injury.
The duo, who will lead a new-look secondary after the departure of three starters, admit that they sometimes revert to their basic instincts, but they try to use that to help each other.
"We have different eyes," Johnson said. "I'll have the safety eyes sometimes when he doesn't and he'll have the corner eyes sometimes when I don't. We are always exchanging information and bouncing different things off each other; it allows us to get comfortable with where we're at now."
Johnson and Byrd are two key members of the senior class that head coach Dave Doeren noted, "has a look in their eye that you like to see.
"They know they're out of time and they've got to get it done now."
Dontae Moving Down
When the previous coaching staff first approached Johnson about moving from safety to nickelback, he saw it as a way to get on the field despite the presence of an outstanding and experienced safety duo in Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop, both of whom are now in NFL training camps.
He had no quarrels making the move permanent the following year, even though he had never played corner before his time at NC State.
"Honestly, moving was a shock to me, but the coaches trusted me to move because I'm athletic enough to play the position," he said. "I just wanted to help the team win."
Johnson's athletic ability and size served in well at corner, where he settled in quickly. Despite his inexperience at the position, the former safety is a grizzled veteran compared to the three starters who will surround him in the secondary this fall. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Juston Burris played extensively in the nickel package and pulled down three interceptions in 2012, but Byrd and fellow safety Hakim Jones are expected to see significant action for the first time in their respective careers. That doesn't mean the elder statesmen lacks for confidence in his group.
"I really feel comfortable with Jarvis and Hakim coming in and playing right away," he said. "Jarvis was a corner, but he hasn't played due to injury and he has a chip on his shoulder to prove that he's capable of playing. By switching from corner to safety, I feel that's really going to help him a lot in the coverage aspect. He's really physical already and that's going to be huge."
N.C. State NEWS