NC State's already young secondary got even younger on the depth chart this season, but they also received an infusion of exciting young talent.
Three true freshmen have found their way onto the two-deep. Cornerback David Amerson has started the last two games while safety Dontae Johnson earned his first career start when the Pack toppled Boston College 44-17 Saturday. Safety D.J. Green has played in every game this season.
Defensive backs coach Mike Reed knew that the three, each of whom measure at least 6-foot-3 and 184 pounds, had size, but he said it was their athleticism that stood out.
"The biggest asset for them is that they were athletic and they were ready to play," Reed said. "These were guys that came from good programs that had coaches that coached them well. That's a testament to those coaches, and we're glad that they're here."
Amerson, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, was a safety at Greensboro (N.C.) Dudley High, but he has made the move to corner for college. After making three total tackles in the first four games, Amerson was named a starter at boundary corner for the Virginia Tech showdown and responded with five tackles. He made a team-high eight hits in the win over Boston College.
Reed is not surprised that Amerson has made a smooth transition to corner.
"He's an athletic kid," Reed noted. "Basically when you have an athletic kid the only thing you have to do is the learn the plays. He's done that. He's done that well, and he's done good things for us.
"He's done well. He's still learning on the job. He'll get better as the weeks go on, and we'll go from there."
Johnson, 6-foot-3, 184 pounds, started at field safety Saturday. Earlier in the season, it was actually Johnson that played the most among the three freshmen. He played 17 snaps in the season opener against Western Carolina and was in on 25 plays against both Central Florida and Cincinnati.
NC State flirted with the idea of trying Johnson at cornerback before the season started, but he has found a home at safety.
"He became the nickel guy, and from there we figured he would be a better fit at safety," Reed said. "He has ability to learn and retain a lot of things. He's athletic, and he has size and abilities, so he gives us another body we can use."
Johnson had four tackles and a pass breakup against Boston College. This season he has totaled 14 tackles, including seven on special teams.
Green, at 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, is the most imposing of the three freshmen.
"He's definitely a prototypical safety," Reed said. "He has that size and with the speed and quickness that he has, it's great. He's still learning. He's got to get better. It's good to have some competition back there for once. Guys are competing for jobs and not resting on the last game's experience.
"He's a guy that can play in the box and outside the box. He's versatile. That allows you as a defensive coordinator or defensive backs coach to do a lot of different things with that type of the player."
Green had his best performance of the season in his most extensive playing time to date against Boston College. Green had six tackles, including five solo hits, in 29 plays. He also scored a touchdown when he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone.
Prior to Boston College, Green had played on defense in just 19 snaps, 15 of them against Western Carolina and then four more against Georgia Tech. He had been a regular on special teams however, and he has 11 tackles on the year, three of them on kick coverage units.