"I don't know what we were ranked as far as the other teams in the ACC, but I know it wasn't good," Bishop said. "There's huge room for improvement – obviously."
NC State ranked 11th in scoring defense last season in the league, giving up over 31 points a game. The passing defense was better, but not by much, coming in 9th in the league – allowing 220 yards and giving up 20 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.
It was a year full of painful lessons for a group of players getting their first dose of playing time in college. Freshmen Brandan Bishop, Earl Wolff, Rashard Smith, Jarvis Byrd and C.J. Wilson all started multiple games in 2009 and are trying to take the pain of last year and turn it into improvement.
"The experience that we got last year – me, C.J, Earl, Rashard even though he's not with us – we all got experience last year and that's going to help us tremendously this year," Bishop said. "We aren't rookies anymore, we got out there and played in some games so we have to take what we learned last year and just build."
One of the lessons they learned was the importance of film. With their every move being recorded during games, Wilson said he was able to go back and correct mistakes in a way he hadn't learned to do previously.
"I learned how to break-down film, see what's happening and learn what I needed to work on during the offseason," Wilson said.
Fully aware of that performance, and with the video evidence to remind them if they forgot, the defensive backfield banded together during the offseason with one goal in mind – getting better. The group took two weeks off after spring practice and then got back to work.
"Being a young secondary we knew we needed to put in the time this summer and get better," Wilson added. "I think we were the hardest-working group during the summer. We spent a lot of extra time on the field doing drills by ourselves just trying to get better."
Wilson credits Justin Byers, a redshirt-junior who Bishop jokingly referred to as the ‘grandfather' of the group, with keeping on the younger players and reminding them of what needed to get done.
"We would stay late," Wilson said. "J.B. [Justin Byers] would call us up and say ‘let's meet at the field.' We'd just do drills."
Along with Byers, Wolff also emerged as a voice of encouragement during those hot summer workouts. The red-shirt sophomore, who started four games late in the year for the Pack and finished eighth on the team in tackles, has been working out with the first-string defense in fall camp.
"Earl is our more outspoken leader – he's gonna say ‘Let's do this', he's gonna boost us up," Wilson said.
The defensive backs are trying to use this summer as a turning point by bonding together and putting in the effort needed to improve. The end product of all that work, and all the struggles of last year, is one of the team's closest groups of players.
"I feel like we have a really special group [of freshmen and sophomores]," said Wilson. "Throughout the offseason we all worked together, and we've kind of gelled as a unit. I think that's going to help us be so much better than last year."
NC State's secondary is still going to be young with Byers being the only scholarship upperclassman on the roster. As it stands now they could be starting three sophomores and a freshman, but that doesn't mean they can't be better.
The experience they've gained over the last year could start to pay off in 2010.