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September 13, 2013
One of the strengths of the NC State defense so far has been the Wolfpack line, and the big tackles in the middle have shined particularly bright in the season's first two games. The foursome in the middle have combined for 21 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Redshirt junior Thomas Teal is the grizzled veteran of the group and paces the Pack with three tackles for loss, while he leads all linemen with seven tackles, in addition to his sack, which came against Richmond. In 21 career games, including 16 starts, he has totaled 55 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and 14 quarterback pressures.
"We've got a lot of depth right now," he said. "We've just got a lot of guys who are eager to play. They all worked hard during the winter to get to a point where we could play a lot of people. We're all just hungry to make plays."
The defensive front paved the way for a stellar second half performance against the Spiders, and the line tallied a trio of sacks against a front that allowed just five last year and returned the majority of their starters. It was a drastic change from the first half when the visiting team racked up 218 yards of passing and the Pack was flagged for several personal fouls against the quarterback.
"We were getting to the quarterback a number of times [in the first half], but we were getting too high and making dumb mistakes," Teal noted. "In the second half, we came out and played smarter. We stayed away from the quarterback's head and stuff like that.
"We did a good job during the week of understanding their blocking schemes and slide protections; that enabled us to key on it and make plays in the backfield."
NCSU is on a bye this week, but a huge challenge awaits next Thursday, when the high-powered Clemson passing attack comes to Raleigh for a nationally televised game. The team has already started to prepare for its next tilt, and Teal, a South Carolina native, knows the defensive line's performance will be huge once again.
"[The bye] definitely helps us to prepare for a team like Clemson," he said. "They're very good at what they do. They've got a lot of shifts and motions; the extra week will give us time to zone in on our keys.
"The key is going to be to get pressure. It all starts with pressure and we have to contain their quarterback because he's a pretty good player."
In addition to the front applying pressure against Clemson, Teal noted the defense must also get away from the mental mistakes that plagued the unit in the first half of that Richmond game.
"The biggest thing is to be in our spots, be where we need to be as a defense with everybody keying in on their reads and stuff," he said. "We can't beat ourselves with stupid penalties."
One of the biggest challenges about facing the Tigers is the pace that the offense runs at. Luckily, the NCSU offense runs at a similar high-octane speed now and the defense got used to playing against that style of attack during training camp. The Pack defensive line is also deep, which should keep players fresh next Thursday.
"It's a great advantage to have against good, no-huddle teams of that caliber," Teal noted. "Just to be able to rotate defensive linemen keeps the body fresh and I believe it's pretty even [between the first and second-team lines]. We've got a lot of guys and each guys is good at what he does in a similar way."
As the defensive linemen left the practice field on Thursday, one of the tackles, redshirt sophomore Carlos Gray, was walking off the field with what looked like a championship wrestling belt slung over his shoulder. Teal explained what the belt meant and noted that he's looking forward to his next opportunity to claim it as his own.
"We have this new thing that is a get-off competition to see who can get off the ball the fastest," he said. "[Gray] won it today, it's once a week and he gets to keep the belt the whole week. He [brings it to practice every day] to show it off, but we'll have our chance next week to get it from him.
"It's a fun competition. It creates camaraderie between all of us. We try to compete against each other every day to get better."
N.C. State NEWS