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June 29, 2009

Any kind of Irving absence affects Wolfpack

The near-tragic car accident to NC State star redshirt junior outside linebacker Nate Irving is something no team should ever have to experience.

Irving was traveling on I-40 westbound at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning when he lost control, and his vehicle ran off the road and struck two trees. Irving was also charged with careless and reckless driving with speculation that he fell asleep at the wheel. No other cars were involved in the accident.

Irving was transported to WakeMed, where he had a successful surgery Sunday night on his broken leg, and was treated for a punctured lung.

Outside of a heroic comeback, it seems unlikely that Irving will be ready for the season opener against South Carolina on Sept. 3. Speculation has run rampant on how long Irving might be out, but nothing has been announced.

The Wolfpacker takes a look at five areas that will need to be addressed during fall camp if Irving misses any game action this upcoming season.

1. Dwayne Maddox gets starting nod

True sophomore Dwayne Maddox was prematurely rushed into action last year when Irving missed three full games and parts of two others while battling a high ankle sprain. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Maddox was the only true freshman to start on defense last year, earning four starts.

Maddox, who is from Shelby (N.C.) Crest High, had arguably his best game in the 38-31 loss to Boston College. He caused a fumble and recovered one against the Eagles. He also had nine tackles against Florida State.

Maddox tallied 32 tackles in nine games, and was in for 308 plays. He went through the rigors of teams trying to test him and throwing underneath to his side of the zone. He's a year older, smarter and stronger.

Linebackers coach Andy McCollum has said in recent weeks that Maddox is following a similar career path as Irving. He thinks in time, he could be that same kind of impact. The question is whether the time is now, such as against South Carolina on Sept. 3.

2. Wolfpack juggles their linebackers

NC State could adopt a similar philosophy that the offensive employs. The Wolfpack could end up playing the three best linebackers regardless of where they left the spring on the organizational chart.

That could mean that Maddox wins the job and is ready to be an impact player. Or, essentially Maddox, sophomore middle linebacker Sterling Lucas, and redshirt freshman William Beasley and Terrell Manning, are all battling for the starting spot.

Beasley was slated to possibly play both middle linebacker and weakside outside linebacker, while Manning was at strongside outside linebacker behind redshirt sophomore Audie Cole.

Lucas played in all 12 games and had 119 snaps last year while backing up fifth-year senior middle linebacker Ray Michel. He ended up with 14 tackles, one tackle for loss and a quarterback pressure. However, he also was one of the standouts during the spring and many inside the program believe the 6-2, 227-pounder from Orangeburg, S.C., is going to be a great player one day.

Manning is coming off a serious knee injury that he suffered during his last prep football game at Laurinburg (N.C.) Scotland County High. He was able to return for the 15 bowl practices leading up facing Rutgers in the PapaJohns.com Bowl. Beasley reshaped his body during his redshirt season and lost 11 pounds, down to 226.

3. Depth will be needed

NC State prefers to rotate its linebackers in and out, and had Lucas and Irving on the field during obvious passing downs last year. Whoever lands the starting spot, someone else will need to emerge as a backup.

Beasley seems the most logical choice in earning new-found playing time as a reserve. The door is now open for some of the three incoming freshman to earn a shot at being part of the rotation - Ryan Cheek, Hans Rice and Rickey Dowdy.

McCollum believes both Cheek and Dowdy have the abilities to play weakside outside linebacker, while Rice has been pegged for the strongside because of his safety-like ability to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

Unlike last year, the Wolfpack will have the whole month of August to work out the kinks in case Irving is unavailable for the season opener. The rotation will be set and players (and coaches) will know what is needed for NC State to build off the success the defense had during the last four regular season games.

4. New leadership developed

Irving had a quiet determination and the intangibles that you can't teach in leadership. His teammates believed he could step up and make game-winning plays, and he often did. The ability to reward teammates faith is a powerful form of leadership.

Veterans such as fifth-year senior defensive end Willie Young, fifth-year senior Alan-Michael Cash and the previous mentioned Michel will be put to the test. Also, senior safety Clem Johnson could factor in as well because the defense took on a new personality when he broke into the lineup late last season.

Whether new linebackers Cole, Maddox or Lucas, have the ability to become team leaders is undetermined, but as last year showed with Irving and then redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson, age is just a number when it comes to showing leadership.

The Wolfpack defenders will have to pick up the slack on the field and in leadership with Irving's absence.

5. Avoid the letdown

NC State players have probably experienced more difficult injuries to their teammates than nearly any college program in the ACC (maybe the country). Strong safety Javon Walker, wide receiver Donald Bowens, running back Toney Baker, tight end Anthony Hill and several other players have missed large chunks of time the last three years.

NC State has showed in the past that they have the character to get through such debilitating injuries in the past. Losing Irving for an extended period of time would be similar to what the wide receivers went through last year when Bowens missed the season with a back injury. In Bowens' place, wideouts Jarvis Williams, Owen Spencer and T.J. Graham emerged into play-makers.

The linebackers could have to go through the same transition. One difference, which was previously mentioned, is that the defense went through a letdown last year when Irving was injured, but that injury happened during the chaos of the season. The coaches will have plenty of time to prepare accordingly this year.



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