#97 Willie Young: 6'5 230 - Redshirt Junior
#62 Markus Kuhn: 6'4 280 - Sophomore
#11 Audi Augustin: 6'2 250 - Redshirt Sophomore
A few years back NC State churned out two All-ACC defensive ends in Mario Williams and Manny Lawson. Junior Willie Young could be the next as he ended the 2007 season performing at a very high level.
After splitting time with senior Littleton Wright the first four games of the season, Young earned his first start in the game against Florida State, and during the following bye week the staff moved him permanently to weakside defensive end... playing away from the tight end free with an offensive tackle. In previous games, the staff simply played the ends on sides of the field, and the decision to start Young while also keeping him at weakside paid huge dividends.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he proved equally effective as a pass rusher and did a great job of getting into the backfield and disrupting running plays. Over the final eight games of the season, all starts by Young, he totaled 31 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 13 tackles for a loss. Despite being extremely productive, he didn't even earn honorable mention all-conference honors.
The ACC recognized four defensive ends on the first and second all-conference teams: Virginia's Chris Long, Virginia Tech's Chris Ellis, North Carolina's Hilee Taylor, and Georgia Tech's Darrell Robertson. Over their final eight games, each posted numbers either right above or below Young. Long, the league's Player of the Year, tallied 47 tackles, eight sacks, and 12.5 tackles for a loss. Ellis, the other first-team member, recorded 29 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for a loss. Taylor totaled 31 tackles, six sacks, and 8.5 tackles for a loss, and Robertson finished the final eight games posting 18 tackles, three sacks, and 7.5 tackles for a loss. When you compare the five players over the eight-game stretch, Young finished first in tackles for a loss, tied for second in tackles, and third in sacks.
Sharing reps earlier in the season hindered his chances of garnering postseason accolades or posting even better numbers, but Young finished the year playing as well as any defensive end in the conference. Expect him to be on several preseason All-ACC lists as he is the only one of the five returning in 2008... the other four were seniors in 2007 while Young was just a sophomore.
Playing opposite Young at strongside defensive end is expected to be sophomore Markus Kuhn. Kuhn was one of the pleasant surprises on the Wolfpack's defense in 2007, as the youngster from Germany played meaningful snaps during his true freshman season.
In 10 games, Kuhn totaled 32 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, a sack, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. He started the year working at defensive tackle but moved outside midseason where he mainly backed up senior Martrel Brown. At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Kuhn is extremely athletic for his size and possesses good strength. He gives the Pack a physical presence at end, particularly against run-oriented offenses, but because of his quickness he has flashed the ability to rush the passer.
Remember, Kuhn is still fairly new to the game of football, and he played linebacker prior to enrolling at NC State. The more experience he gains the better he will be. This spring should be very beneficial to him, as he can use the extra practices to improve on his fundamentals and the techniques needed to play defensive end. He has a big-time upside.
Another player figured to be a factor is sophomore Audi Augustin. Highly recruited out of Florida, Augustin played sparingly in 2007, recording just four tackles. With two seniors, Young, Antoine Holmes, and Kuhn ahead of him, the reps just weren't there. At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, he has the size and strength to impact. Now he just needs the opportunity. He should be in the mix for playing time.
POTENTIAL IMPACT NEWCOMERS
#99 Jeff Rieskamp: 6'4 295 - Redshirt Freshman
Another player expected to battle this spring for reps is freshman Jeff Rieskamp. Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, Rieskamp redshirted in 2007. As a prepster at Elder High School, he tallied 56 tackles and nine sacks during his senior season, earning all-league, all-district, and all-state honors. Rieskamp was one of the first players to commit to coach O'Brien at NC State, as he originally verbaled to Boston College prior to O'Brien leaving BC. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder is a hard-nosed competitor who plays with a high motor.
In the opening spring practice, Rieskamp worked with the second team, backing up Young. He showed outstanding quickness off the edge, and is strong for his size. One offensive lineman noted that he is as explosive as any of the Pack's defensive ends coming off the edge. Look for the Wolfpack to give him repetitions during passing situations and as Young's reserve at weakside defensive end.
Over the summer NC State will add junior college All-American Shea McKeen to the mix, but he won't be in Raleigh during spring practice. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder is expected to contribute right away for the Wolfpack and will battle for playing time.
If Augustin is going to make a push for a starting job, look for him to do it this spring at strongside defensive end.
Kuhn is still relatively inexperienced, and Augustin has played defensive end his entire career. He has the talent and has flashed potential in limited opportunities and now it is time for him to put it all together.
Regardless, those two, Young, Rieskamp, and eventually McKeen should be more than capable of holding down the fort for NC State at the two defensive end slots. Also, if the need is there, the Wolfpack could slide Antoine Holmes back out to end from tackle.
Young emerges into the player he is capable of being this spring and as a redshirt junior he becomes the leader of the Pack's defensive front.
Also, the Pack would probably like to see Kuhn continue improving and for Augustin and Rieskamp to make strides as well.
Finally, the ideal situation would be for every one of the defensive ends to remain healthy.
Young takes the next step and becomes one of the league's top defensive players. Kuhn has everything you're looking for in a strongside defensive end and with these spring practices he will only get even better.
Augustin, Rieskamp, and McKeen will give the Wolfpack a solid group that should be more than capable of making plays for them at defensive end over the next few years as this unit doesn't have one senior scholarship player.