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NC State fall camp position battles to watch: Defense edition

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NCAA Football: Wake Forest at North Carolina State Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

The defense is in pretty good shape in terms of returning starters, and the defensive line should be a strength. There are several starting spots to be had on this side of the ball, though, and in places there is a worrisome lack of experience.

Cornerback

Between the two of them, Mike Stevens and Jack Tocho have appeared in 60 games at NC State, with 33 starts. They spent a lot of time on the boundary side in 2015, with Juston Burris handling most of the duty to the field side.

Stevens and Tocho are easily the most seasoned players at corner, but will one of them be capable of taking over Burris’ role in the secondary, and if not, where does NC State turn? There is little proven talent behind that pair, which is one reason that Johnathan Alston was moved from receiver to defensive back for the 2016 season.

Of the 11 players listed at corner on State’s roster, five are either true or redshirt freshmen, which is to say that they’ve never played a down of college football. And Alston, obviously, has had no in-season reps at DB either.

The returning CBs who did see the field last year: Sean Paul (4 snaps at corner), Freddie Phillips (3), and Nicholas Lacey (0; he was exclusively a special-teamer). There is a lot to be sorted out here.

Defensive end

NC State’s defensive line returns largely (heh!) intact; the notable departure is Mike Rose, who started every game at one of the end spots. The Wolfpack should have Bradley Chubb at one end spot to begin the year, with B.J. Hill and Kentavius Street in the middle, leaving Rose’s vacancy to be filled.

On the other hand, State’s coaches could choose to move Street back outside, which was his presumptive position coming out of high school. Street’s versatility and strength allow him to fill multiple roles, and while all of his starts last year came on the interior, he didn’t spend all of his time there.

Perhaps if, say, DT Justin Jones—who logged a lot of reps in 2015—has a good camp, State would feel comfortable putting Street back at defensive end.

If not, then an obvious candidate for Rose’s place along the line is Darian Roseboro, who like Street was a four-star prospect out of high school. Rose spent a lot of his true freshman year catching up to the speed of college football but still finished third on the team in sacks, and also took a pick to the house.

Safety

Between Hakim Jones’ graduation and Germaine Pratt’s move to linebacker, NC State is missing quite a bit of experience at the back end. Fortunately, Josh Jones is back to anchor one of the safety spots.

Shawn Boone was on the field for nearly 200 snaps as a sophomore and would have played more if he hadn’t missed four games because of injury. He’s as good a candidate as anybody else to nab that second safety spot.

Josh Sessoms is entering his fifth year at NC State, but he hasn’t seen much of the field during a career that’s taken him from safety to wide receiver and back to safety again. What kind of production is he capable of giving this group?

If there’s a general theme in the secondary, maybe it’s less about sorting out the first string and more about wading through the youth and uncertainty to find reliable reserve players.