NC State defense and special teams have been getting a makeover during fall camp, but in the case of the latter, the seem players from last year will still be involved.
NC State fifth-year senior Josh Czajkowski averaged 58.3 yards on 65 kickoffs with zero touchbacks and three kicks booted out of bounds. Former Boston College kicker Billy Bennett was expected to challenge Czajkowski for kickoff duties, but the San Diego native never made it to campus.
NCSU coach Tom O'Brien has noticed improvement from Czajkowski, who went 10 of 12 on field goals last year.
"Well, it's going to have to be on Josh Czajkowski's shoulders," O'Brien said. "He spent all summer trying to get more elevation and more hang time and more distance, which he's been able to do. If he can get five to 10 yards further on his kick, then that ought to be sufficient enough. Plus hopefully, we are deeper, more athletic on the cover team to get down there and make sure we are covering the kicks."
Fifth-year senior punter Jeff Ruiz has also improved during the offseason. He averaged 37.9 yards on 46 punts, with 13 inside the 20-yard line.
"He's been doing fine," O'Brien said. "He's got more hang time and little bit more distance and same thing, hopefully, we can cover a little bit better and net punting will go up. We have to be in the top three in the conference."
NC State allowed opponents to start its drive at the 33-yard line last year. Winning the battle of field position will help the youthful defense.
"Well, that was certainly a factor," O'Brien said. "We put ourselves in difficult situations, but we aided it by the way we played sometimes too."
The battle for playing time at defensive end and outside linebacker has also been hotly contested during fall camp. Defensive ends Audi Augustin, Michael Lemon, Jeff Rieskamp and David Akinniyi, are all battling for their spots in the rotation. All but Rieskamp are seniors.
"There are eight guys right now, and they are all fighting to see what their percentage of playing time is going to be," O'Brien said. "We have a lot of good competition up front. Hopefully, we'll shake it out, and they'll decide if they are going to be 50 percent, 60-40 or 70-30. We'll see how it is going to work out with their playing time is going to be by their performances on the practice field."
Augustin is hoping to win a starting job for the first time in his Wolfpack career. He had eight tackles in 11 games, plus 11 quarterback pressures and two fumble recoveries last year.
"He's got more experience because he's been around more than anybody else, but it's the same thing with those four guys, Rieskamp and Akinniyi, they are all fighting to try and get their way onto the field," O'Brien said. "That is good for us. We have to keep them healthy and keep them going."
Lemon, who had one sack and one start after transferring in from junior college, is expected to be one of the playmakers off the edge in his final season in Raleigh.
"He's much more comfortable," O'Brien said. "He's like a sophomore even though he's in his last year of eligibility. He came in here last year, came in late to camp because of some academic situations, and he really didn't get to know guys until we got through the year a little bit. He's much more comfortable. He knows everybody, everybody knows him. His relationship is much more of a family situation for him now than I think a year ago. He tried to assimilate himself into our family."
Redshirt sophomore Terrell Manning and junior Dwayne Maddux have competed for the weakside spot the last two years.
Manning started twice last year, and racked up 48 tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception.
"Playing last year, he was like a lot of those kids, first-time players," O'Brien said. "They use the whole out-of-season and spring practice to try and learn to get better. The more you play, the more experienced you are, the faster you play. So, he's playing much faster than say, he was at this time last year."
Rivals.com ranked Manning the No. 138 overall player in the country, and No. 3 in North Carolina, coming out of Laurinburg Scotland County. He was forced to redshirt his freshman season after suffering an ACL tear his senior year.
"Certainly, he was set back by his knee injury in the playoff game, an unfortunate thing," O'Brien said. "It cost him a redshirt year, but in the long run, maybe it's better for him because he's a little more physical. He's got a little weight on him now than he would have if he came in because he was a little slender coming out of high school."
Maddox started 11 games and finished seventh on the team with 54 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack, last year. O'Brien said the position battle hasn't been settled yet.
"We still have until Monday to make that decision on what we are going to do," O'Brien said. "We're using this week to shuffle the deck a little bit again and we'll see how it works out through Saturday's practice."