ACC Football: Wolfpack figuring out LB rotation in preseason
RALEIGH ó North Carolina State headed out of spring drills believing Nate Irving would be the foundation of its defense. A few months later, the Wolfpack is trying to figure out what to do without him.
Irving is recovering from several injuries suffered during a June car accident, including a broken leg and a collapsed lung. Coach Tom O’Brien has said Irving remains out indefinitely, putting pressure on the Wolfpack to figure out how to replace the linebacker’s production at the start of preseason workouts this week.
O’Brien has mentioned sophomore Dwayne Maddox as a leading candidate, though redshirt freshman Terrell Manning has switched positions to compete for the job.
“Those two guys are going to fight it out right now, because that’s a spot we have to solve,” O’Brien said. “We’ll have to give it some time to see how it works out.”
Irving was an honorable mention all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick last year, despite missing three games with injuries. He finished with 84 tackles, including 12 for loss, and four interceptions in 10 games.
O’Brien has said Irving hopes to know more about his chances of returning this year in the coming weeks.
Maddox started four games last year and finished with 32 tackles. But he didn’t play at all in four of the final five games during the Wolfpack’s late-season bowl push.
Still, that year of experience helped. Though down only about three pounds from last season, Maddox said he has cut down his body fat and added muscle through the team’s strength and conditioning program.
“I was young coming in and I didn’t really have the mindset I would need to play at that level,” he said. “So after playing a couple of games, I think I know what it’s like and I just feel like a more confident player.
“I tried to learn as much as I could over the summer and during the spring so I could come out this year and dominate.”
Manning redshirted last year while rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn knee ligament, an injury suffered in the final game of his prep career.
Sorting it all out will be critical for the Wolfpack, who figures to have another first-time starter in Audie Cole at one of the other linebacking spots. Senior Ray Michel offers some experience in the middle after starting all 13 games and tallying a team-best 102 tackles last year.
Defensive end Willie Young says the burden to make up for Irving isn’t on just Maddox.
“It’s not a safety or a corner or a lineman,” he said. “It’s on the team. It’s up to us just to get the job done. It’s not a one-man game. You’ve got 11 guys who have to be synchronized and disciplined enough to come out and do their job.”
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