State of the position: Linebackers

With the 2009 season behind NC State, it's only natural to take a look back at the year and analyze the roster. The Wolfpacker does just that, taking a position-by-position look at the squad, and figuring out what went right and wrong in 2009, and how the future shapes up. We continue with the linebacker position.
Season Breakdown
Preseason spin
Expectations for the linebackers position changed dramatically when star Nate Irving was lost for the season with multiple injuries sustained in a car accident over the summer. That left middle linebacker Ray Michel as the only returning starter at linebacker.
The hope was that four newcomers to the rotation would fill the void. Audie Cole had been declared the breakout performer in the spring for defense, and Dwayne Maddox and Sterling Lucas were looking to build off the experiences of their true freshman years. State also added highly touted Terrell Manning to the mix after he redshirted 2008 to rehab a knee injury.
Replacing Irving proved to be a far more difficult task than even the Wolfpack coaches probably imagined. The young linebackers struggled adjusting to a full-time role and battled inconsistency all year. Michel was steady in the middle but missed two games with injuries. He finished the year with 44 tackles, including two for losses.
Cole's development was probably the most promising thing to happen for the linebackers. He made a team-high 73 tackles and was second on the squad with 8.5 tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks. He also broke up a pass and forced a fumble.
The trio of Lucas, Maddox and Manning, all part of the 2008 recruiting class, flashed signs, but they will need to become much more consistent. Maddox had 43 tackles, including 3.5 for losses and a sack, and broke up a pass. Lucas added 39 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and Manning had 42 tackles, including 2.5 for losses, picked off a pass and broke up another and tied for a team-high two forced fumbles.
Analyzing Recruiting Trend
The Supposed Foundation
By the foundation, we mean high school players that were signed in the Classes of 2005, 2006 and 2007 that have been in the program for at least three years. We did not include junior college recruits or major college transfers in this list.
Ray Michel, Class of 2005
Avery Vogt, Class of 2005
Nathaniel Irving, Class of 2006
John Ware, Class of 2006
Thomas Barnes, Class of 2007
Audie Cole, Class of 2007
Analysis: There was a very minimal foundation for this team to build on at the linebacker spot. The bright spot was Irving, a two-star recruit who was blossoming into a star before his car wreck. Michel was also a solid middle linebacker, and Cole is looking like a keeper at the position after his promising development in 2009. However, Vogt never materialized on the field before he transferred out, and both Barnes and Ware had promising careers sidetracked by off the field issues that forced their departures.
The Future?
The future are high school and prep players that signed in 2008 through 2010.
William Beasley, Class of 2008
Colby Jackson, Class of 2008
Sterling Lucas, Class of 2008
Dwayne Maddox, Class of 2008
Terrell Manning, Class of 2008
Ryan Cheek, Class of 2009
Rickey Dowdy, Class of 2009
Hans Rice, Class of 2009
Analysis: The future is now for NC State. The highly touted 2008 class has been in the program for three years, and they should be ready to take the reins of the position and make their mark. Lucas, Maddox and Manning have all shown they have the potential, but NC State coaches will be looking to see they reach it in 2010.
The wildcards are Beasley and Jackson. Beasley redshirted and then sat out last season for unspecified reasons. Jackson was a former fullback recruit who is expected to move to linebacker this spring. The Class of 2009 recruits all redshirted, with Cheek missing last season because of a hip injury.
State Of The Position
If they can, if Cole can continue to develop and if Irving can return to form, linebackers could be much improved in 2010. That's a lot of ifs though.
Previous State of the Positions
- Quarterbacks
- Running Backs
- Wide Receivers
- Tight Ends
- Offensive Linemen
- Defensvie Ends
- Defensive Tackles