2011 review: Defensive freshmen

With the 2011 season officially in the books, it's time to take a look back and reflect on a year that saw the Pack finish strong, winning six of its last eight games, to finish 8-5 overall following a 31-24 win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
We continue by taking a glimpse of the future of NC State. Here's a look at how the freshmen rookies on defense performed, in alphabetical order.
Punter Wil Baumann

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Baumann was one of just six true freshmen punters in 2011. Perhaps to be expected, he went through an inconsistent year and finished with an average of 37.5 yards a punt on 65 kicks, and he landed 21 inside the 20, which ranked third highest in the ACC.
Baumann had some big punting afternoons, all of them interestingly on the road, averaging 41.8 yards at Wake Forest Sept. 10 on four kicks, 42.5 yards on six boots at Cincinnati Sept. 22 and 40.6 yards on seven punts at Florida State Oct. 29.
He also turned in a strong performance against UNC Nov. 5 in Carter-Finley, averaging 37.9 yards per punt but getting five of his seven kicks inside the 20 to help State dominate field possession throughout the game.
Baumann hurt his knee against Louisville in the bowl game Dec. 27, but assuming the injury was not serious should be the punter again in 2012.
Defensive tackle T.Y. McGill
McGill was perhaps the surprise true freshman in 2011. He was one of the last members of the recruiting class to get a scholarship offer, but he played in all 13 games this fall, even earning a start at Virginia Oct. 22. McGill was the only true freshman at a non-special teams position to get a start.
McGill had 18 tackles during the regular season, including one for a loss at Cincinnati. He also assisted on a tackle in the Belk Bowl, but the coaches' stats from the Louisville contest are not yet available. With both starters at defensive tackle gone, McGill will be among those competing for a starting job in 2012.
Safety Rodman Noel
That Noel played as a true freshman was not a surprise. He's an imposing specimen at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds and had the benefit of spending a year in prep school before arriving at NC State. The fact that Noel burned a redshirt this fall to play exclusively on special teams though may be a little surprising.
Noel did not have a tackle in the regular season, although he was credited with having a knockdown block on special teams. Given his size and the losses at linebacker, Noel may be a candidate to bulk up to that position in 2012 since the depth chart at safety is more solidified.
Defensive end Art Norman
Normal joins McGill in examples of late finds for NC State. Norman was one of the final players in the 2010 recruiting class to get a scholarship offer, and he rewarded State big-time in 2011. Norman, a redshirt freshman, was the Pack's most prolific pass rusher in the fall.
Norman started eight games after fifth-year senior Jeff Rieskamp was lost for the year after just one contest with a shoulder injury. Norman finished the regular season with 25 tackles, including nine for loss and six sacks, and an amazing 30 quarterback hurries. Norman also had a pass breakup and forced fumble.
In the Belk Bowl, Norman added 1.5 tackles, including his seventh sack of the season. He led the Pack in sacks this year, and he tied Tyler Lawrence's 1990 record for most sacks by a freshman with seven. Depending on who lines up where in 2012 on the defensive line, Norman could be in line to become a full-time starter this fall.
Linebacker Michael Peek
The decision to play Peek as a true freshman looks a little better now that Terrell Manning has decided to turn pro. Peek played sparingly overall, getting on the field in six games at linebacker and 12 on special teams.
The highlight of his season was against Clemson Nov. 19. He was on the field for 10 plays and had a sack for an eight-yard loss. On the season, Peek had seven tackles on the year, six of them on special teams. Given the uncertainty at linebacker, Peek may have a chance to compete for a prominent role on the defense in 2012.
Linebacker Brandon Pittman
Pittman was a surprise true freshman performer considering Peek had already landed a spot on the two-deep in the preseason, but likewise with Peek, with the linebacker unit in flux after Manning's departure, the decision to play Pittman may now have dividends.
Pittman only saw the field at linebacker in two games, at Cincinnati and versus Georgia Tech Oct. 1. He played in four more games on special teams, the last of which came at Virginia Oct. 22. Pittman had four tackles on special teams, two of them solo.
Defensive end Theo Rich
Rich was not expected to play a major role on defense as a redshirt freshman, but when a seemingly endless string of injuries hit the defensive line early in the season, Rich was called into action.
He played the first five games of the year before the return of healthy bodies pushed Rich back to scout team duties. Rich finished the year with five tackles, three of them solo. He will need a strong spring and preseason camp to get time in the rotation next fall.
Defensive tackle Thomas Teal
Teal showed a lot of promise in his career debut versus Liberty Sept. 3. He had just made a sack to go with an earlier quarterback hurry when Teal broke his foot. That forced him to miss the next seven games.
When Teal did return, he continued to show why coaches are excited about his future. He made three tackles against UNC in his first game back and added a tackle for a loss a week later at Boston College. He had his first career start versus Clemson Nov. 19 and forced a fumble in the win over Maryland Nov. 26.
After concluding the regular season with nine tackles in five games, including two for losses and a sack, Teal made 1.5 tackles in the Belk Bowl, assisting on a hit behind the line of scrimmage.
Teal will be a prime candidate for a starting position in 2012.
Players that redshirted in 2011
Cornerback Juston Burris
Cornerback Tyrrell Burriss
Defensive tackle Carlos Gray
Safety/linebacker Hakim Jones
Defensive end Dave Mann
Defensive end Mike Rose