N.C. State not only featured one of the best defenses in the ACC last fall, but it was also one of the best in the FBS.
The Wolfpack ranked in the top 20 in multiple categories, including third- and fourth-down conversion percentage, opponent first downs, passes intercepted, scoring defense and total defense.
State may have an even better showing this fall, especially on the defensive line and in the secondary.
“In all my years of coaching in this defense, I think this the best defensive line I’ve ever had,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said Wednesday. “It’s a full unit, deeper than we’ve ever been. We feel good about eight guys going in the game at any time.”
Offensive lineman Timothy McKay said practicing against State’s defense isn’t easy. In fact, finally getting to the point where they’ll see different teams is a “sigh of relief.”
McKay agreed with Gibson’s evaluation of the line’s depth. The redshirt junior said Davin Vann is one of the top defensive linemen in the nation. Vann is dynamic and good enough to record multiple sacks in a season, McKay said.
At the corner position, Gibson is relying on juniors Shyheim Battle and Aydan White. Senior safety Jakeen Harris and junior nickelback Devan Boykin should be major contributors, as well.
“I like where we’re at,” Gibson said. “We’ve got a lot of depth, again. (It’s) more depth than we’ve ever had — guys that we can put in a game and not have to worry or change positions.”
The linebacker corps continues to receive shoutouts for its performance in fall camp and the expected contributions.
Gibson called graduate linebacker Payton Wilson the “heartbeat” of the defense. Wilson was named one of the team’s captains after returning to the team for a sixth season. He considered leaving N.C. State at the end of 2022 for the NFL Draft. Instead, he returned for one more year.
“I like to be where my feet are at,” Wilson said. “Whether that was before I made the decision last year — I was focused on going into each game — then, after I made the decision, continuing to be here with my teammates and training hard for this upcoming season.
“It’s an honor that my teammates look at me that way, to get that many votes. It just felt very special.”
Junior Devon Betty, redshirt sophomore Caden Fordham and senior Jaylon Scott are all stepping into important defensive roles, as well.
“It’s their time now,” Gibson said. “Losing the production we had with Isaiah (Moore) and Drake (Thomas), it’s time for somebody else to step up, and I feel really good about those four guys.”
The Wolfpack opens its season next Thursday and has been in full game preparation all week. They’ll face UConn at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 in East Hartford.
“The first game is always the hardest, right? You don’t know what to expect, so we’re working on a lot of different things,” Gibson said. “We have to be able to adjust on the sideline and go out and play good defense throughout the game.”