NC State finished the year No. 106 nationally in pass efficiency defense and No. 11 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Wolfpack defense forced just 14 turnovers in 12 games, which was No. 116 in the country.
A major reason for NC State's inability to defend the pass and force turnovers was the inconsistent and ineffective play of the defensive secondary, a unit that was forced to play six freshmen at different times in 2009.
However, the positive is those players gained experience and are now working to prove they can play on this level.
"They are progressing well," said coach Reed. "They worked hard this summer, and I feel they have stepped up. Now, the true test will come on Saturday when the lights come on. We'll see.
"It's a good situation for us to be in with some experience coming back. A lot of those young guys played last year. They took their beatings and learned from it. Now they are doing what they need to do in camp."
You'll be hard-pressed to find a younger defensive backfield in the country. NC State has just one scholarship upperclassman on its roster in redshirt junior Justin Byers. Byers injured his shoulder in 2008 but continued to play while dealing with the pain. He was able to start two more games in 2009 as he recorded 31 tackles, but the pain grew more intense and his playing time dwindled.
After offseason surgery, Reed believes Byers is a player he can count on this fall, and he is currently listed as the starter at boundary corner.
"Justin is healthy, and that's a good thing for him," said Reed. "He's been playing with a bum shoulder and finally got it fixed. He's doing everything that he's being asked to do for us.
"He's stepped up in a leadership role, and he's being more physical. We'll see... as I said, the true test begins September 4th."
Another player expected to step up for the Wolfpack is starting field cornerback C.J. Wilson. The redshirt sophomore played in all 12 games in 2009 and started four games as he totaled 23 tackles and a tackle for a loss. He enrolled at NC State in 2008 expected to play safety but has settled in at corner for the Wolfpack.
"C.J. has done well," Reed said. "For a guy that had never played the position before, he's actually becoming a student of the game. He's done well. I expect good things from C.J."
Added depth will be provided by a trio of talented true freshmen. David Amerson is the top reserve at field corner, and Dontae Johnson and and D.J. Green are the backups at boundary safety and field safety respectively. The freshmen have the physical attributes colleges look for when recruiting defensive backs, and all three are expected to see the field in 2010.
"The true freshmen have come in and made the transition as far as learning the defense and playing," said Reed. "They are still a little raw, but they are talented. It's good to have them."
Because of the youth, some wonder who will be the leader in the secondary for NC State. Will it be Byers? How about Wilson? Maybe sophomore safeties Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff will take charge. According to Reed, it could be a group effort.
"I think they are all stepping up," he said. "All of my older guys, they understand it... they've been through the fire. They know what to expect and now they are doing it."