#49 Alan-Michael Cash: 6'1 286 - Redshirt Junior
#96 Antoine Holmes: 6'2 281 - Senior
#90 Jamaine Clemmons: 5'11 255 - Senior
DeMario Pressley received much of the attention from the media before and after the 2007 season, but Alan-Michael Cash might have had an even better year than Pressley.
Pressley, a senior from Greensboro, N.C. who will be selected in the 2008 NFL Football Draft, earned honorable mention All-ACC honors after totaling 38 tackles, six tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and two interceptions in 10 games.
Like Willie Young, Cash's standout sophomore season went unnoticed. In 11 games (he missed the Boston College game attending his father's funeral), the 6-foot-1, 286-pounder tallied 48 tackles (led NC State defensive linemen), eight tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, an interception, and a pass breakup.
Strong and explosive, Cash is a disruptor in the interior, capable of applying pressure on quarterbacks and stuffing runs in the backfield. The Wolfpack will likely lean on him and Young to lead the defensive front next season. With four of the ACC's top five defensive tackles from 2007 graduating (first-team All-ACC selection GT's Vance Walker is a rising senior), Cash could make several preseason All-ACC teams in 2008.
Joining Cash at defensive tackle is expected to be senior Antoine Holmes. A junior college All-American out of Lackawanna JC, Holmes rotated between defensive tackle and defensive end in 2007. He may have been, per snap, the Wolfpack's most productive defensive lineman last season. Holmes played in nine games, as he didn't play in the Virginia, Miami, and North Carolina games. In those nine contests, he played a total of 184 snaps. He tallied 20 tackles on the season, or one tackle every 9.2 snaps. Cash recorded a tackle every 11.7 snaps and Pressley did so every 12.3 plays. Holmes added 5.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, and a pass breakup, and with additional snaps in 2008 he should be even more productive.
At 6-foot-2 and 281 pounds, Holmes is very strong, and he is tough to block with just one offensive lineman. Because he's spent much of his football career at defensive end, he's an above-average pass rusher for a defensive tackle, and with him and Cash in the middle the Wolfpack should be able to bring constant pressure on the quarterback.
Jamaine Clemmons was awarded a scholarship for his senior season, and he will provide some depth. Undersized at 5-foot-11 and 255 pounds, Clemmons has a high-motor and is a very good practice player. He played some snaps last year so he is fairly experienced.
POTENTIAL IMPACT NEWCOMERS
#94 Keith Willis Jr.: 6'1 278 - Redshirt Senior
#67 Wayne Crawford: 6'3 290 - Redshirt Freshman
#92 Kyle Linney: 6'3 300 - Freshman
While he is technically a newcomer, Boston College transfer Keith Willis Jr. has played a lot of football during his career. The son of NC State's defensive line coach Keith Willis, Willis Jr. played in 22 games for the Eagles, starting two his redshirt sophomore season. At Boston College, he totaled 37 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, six pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Because he had already redshirted, 'Kiki' lost a year of eligibility while sitting out his transfer year, and he only has one year of eligibility remaining so he will be looking to make the most of it.
At 6-foot-1 and 278 pounds, he'll bring valuable experience and toughness to a position that NC State remains inexperienced at.
The inexperience is mainly in the reserves, as Holmes, Cash, and Willis will likely be backed up by two freshmen, Wayne Crawford and Kyle Linney.
Crawford, a redshirt freshman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has good size at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds and his strength is probably his footwork. A standout track athlete out of Chestut Hill Academy (PA), Crawford led the state in throws and finished in the top-10 nationally in the shot put as a senior.
Linney enrolled at NC State this spring after spending the fall semester at Hargrave Military Academy. He signed with the Wolfpack in 2007 but failed to qualify and had to attend the Chatham (VA) prep school. A four-star prospect according to both national recruiting services, he has great size (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) and the explosiveness you look for in a defensive tackle. Linney has the ability to be a disruptive force, he just needs to learn to bring consistent effort on every play.
With the additions of Willis Jr., Crawford, and Linney, and the signings of junior college defensive tackles LeRoy Burgess and Thomas Locust, the NC State coaching staff felt comfortable enough with the depth at defensive tackle to move two experienced players, John Bedics and Ted Larsen, over to the offensive line.
Cash and Holmes appear to be firmly entrenched as starters, but Willis Jr. will play a lot as coach Willis rotates in fresh bodies throughout the course of a game.
The battle between Crawford and Linney is an intriguing one. At the opening spring practice, Crawford began 11-on-11 workouts as the second team tackle alongside Willis Jr. When the third team hit the field, Linney made some plays right away and the next rotation he took Crawford's spot with the "twos." On the final rotation, Crawford was back with the second team, but that is a good battle to track this spring. Both are young players looking to get on the field.
As with each position group, NC State has to stay healthy at defensive tackle coming out of fall practice. Ideally, the Wolfpack would like to see Cash continue improving, Holmes gain more experience at tackle and work on bring consistent effort every snap, and Willis Jr. work off any lingering rust he may have from sitting out last season.
It would be great for the Wolfpack if Crawford or Linney is able to emerge as a solid fourth tackle in the rotation. With Clemmons also playing his final year, if Crawford or Linney can prove reliable, it might allow the Wolfpack to redshirt one or both of the two incoming junior college tackles, spacing out the scholarships at the position.
Cash has the making of an all-league performer. His motor runs nonstop and when you watch film of the Wolfpack's defense he tends to be around the football. Lining him up alongside Young gives the Pack a solid foundation.
Holmes makes plays and now he needs to take his game to another level. Last year he rotated between end and tackle, and this will be his first true spring practice as he enrolled last summer. He should be able to use the spring to learn the technique needed to play inside, and this is a position change that could pay huge dividends for the Wolfpack as it will allow them to get Holmes, Young, Cash, and Markus Kuhn all on the field at the same time.
The key at defensive tackle will be the reserves. The starters should be strong, but the Pack needs to have three or four others step up and provide depth. With how Willis rotates his linemen, and the grind of a 12-game season, any of these guys could be called on to play a ton of snaps along the way.