After recent defections in the secondary NC State might have to rely on true freshmen to fill the two-deep this fall. A lot of people believe that defensive back is one of the positions you can play early, and Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien is one of them.
"Oh yeah... you can play there," O'Brien recently stated. "You've got to be able to execute though... that's the bottomline. Sometimes it doesn't matter how much ability you have if you can't get lined up or be in the right spot headed in the right direction. You can't play back there... you might get everybody seriously killed."
"Coach O'Brien doesn't hold guys back," said defensive backs coach Mike Reed. "If they are ready to play he will play them. Case in point, T.J. Graham and Dominique Ellis last year. If they are ready, we're going to put them in there."
True frosh Jarvis Byrd is out there competing for playing time just weeks after enrolling at NC State. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder played tailback, safety, cornerback, and linebacker for Pahokee (FL) High, one of the top programs in the state of Florida.
Wake Forest standouts Demir Boldin and Alphonso Smith attended the school, as did Florida State tailback Antone Smith and ex-FSU star Anquan Boldin.
Last year's team features wide receiver Nu'keese Richardson, who signed with Tennessee, and athlete Vincent Smith, a Michigan signee. The 2007 squad was led by wideout Martavious Odoms, who is a freshman at Michigan and cornerback/wide receiver Janoris Jenkins, who is a Florida Gator. With that type of skilled talent in the program, practices are fierce at Pahokee, and it's a big reason why the small school has won five Class 2B State Championships, including three straight titles.
Byrd was a playmaker for Pahokee.
Lining up mainly at cornerback, Byrd would shadow the opposing team's best receiver. He finished 2008 with 60 tackles, 15 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, three sacks, three blocked punts, two blocked field goals, and an interception as he was named first-team all-state. With that being said, the transition to college football hasn't been easy for Byrd.
"The transition has been very difficult," he said. "It's been a lot of hard work. Basically I just need to stay in the playbook and try to make some plays when I'm out there."
Learning the playbook is critical for Byrd because he played in a different scheme in high school. At Pahokee, he was often placed on an island with very little help from his teammates. It was a lot of press coverage... man-to-man. Now, he's transitioning to a defensive scheme that has several zone packages... teamwork and knowing your assignments is vital.
"It's not similar at all to what we did in high school," Byrd said. "At Pahokee we ran a lot of Cover 1. Here we're mixing in all kinds of coverages like Cover 2 and Cover 3. I'm just trying to learn and get comfortable with all of the plays."
What are his thoughts on NC State's defensive scheme?
"It gives me some more flexibility out there," said Byrd. "To know someone is over the top watching over me in case I mess up, it allows me to play hard underneath. I can be physical and play to my strengths... my physical ability. I don't have to worry about someone getting behind me because I have safety help. Things are going good right now."
The two cornerback positions have their differences in the Wolfpack's defense. With the majority of the game being played at the hash mark, the boundary corner always covers the short side of the field, and the field corner always plays the wide side.
Because the field corner is on the wide side, he has to cover more ground and needs to have vertical speed and really good coverage skills... there's more room to cover. With that being said, you'll see a lot of zone coverages rolled that way because throws are longer, and the safeties will give more help, again because there is more field to cover.
At boundary, the routes are ran in a tight area so boundary corners must have great feet and be strong against the run. When man coverage is utilized it is often in the boundary. Boundary cornerbacks will get some safety help, but they also have an added defender in the sideline. Boundary cornerbacks are also used a lot in run support and blitzing the quarterback because they are closer to the line of scrimmage.
Ideally, your field corners are great athletes with good coverage and ball skills. Your boundary corner has great coverage skills and is physical enough to defend wide receivers one-on-one while being able to make tackles in open space and get after the quarterback.
Jarvis Byrd (left) and Rashard
Smith (right) talk during Media Day.
"I"m playing boundary right now because I'm a physical defensive back," said Byrd. "At boundary you have to make tackles and they are sending you on blitzes. You just have to stay focused and know your plays... I can't wait to get to blitz the quarterback."
While Byrd is working at boundary corner, fellow true freshman Rashard Smith is playing field corner. Smith has been turning heads with his play early on.
"Rashard has some of the best ball skills on the team," Byrd stated. "When the ball is up in the air he'll go get it no matter what. He's opened a lot of eyes... he opened my eyes also. I didn't know he'd come in and be that good. He's a good player... I'm glad we got him."
Byrd and Smith might be NC State's future at cornerback, but it looks like they will have a chance to impact in 2009. DeAndre Morgan is the lone returning starter, and senior Koyal George appears to have locked up the other spot. Behind the upperclassmen is a group of freshmen consisting of Byrd, Smith, and redshirt freshmen Gary Grant and C.J. Wilson.
According to Byrd, he and Smith are practicing to get on the field.
"That's our mindset," he said. "We've come in and made plays lately and coach says we're doing really good. He gets on us because we're true freshmen... he tells us to stay focused and don't let anything get us down. He wants us to keep our heads in the playbook because I think he feels like we can be really good."