The folding table and chairs were set up for N.C. State’s defensive linemen for “Meet the Pack Day” underneath the East concourse at Carter-Finley Stadium.
All four starters are gone from last year’s top-25 Wolfpack team — all taken in the first four rounds of the NFL draft — but the seats weren’t empty on Sunday. There are replacements, experienced ones, ready to step in for Bradley Chubb (the fifth pick in the NFL draft), Justin Jones, B.J. Hill and Kentavius Street.
Their primary replacements smiled and signed autographs for fans on Sunday. They’re not as heralded, or ballyhooed as their predecessors, but it’s not like N.C. State is completely starting over up front.
Senior defensive end James Smith-Williams, senior defensive end Darian Roseboro, senior defensive tackle Eurndraus Bryant and third-year sophomore defensive tackle Shug Frazier got their share of reps last season.
They also have confidence and a little motivation to prove there won’t be the dropoff after losing so much high-end talent.
“We have a chance to surprise people,” Smith-Williams said.
The front has been the defense’s strength for the past three years. A big part of that was the talent of Chubb, the ACC’s defensive player of the year in 2017, but also the depth at both tackle and on the end.
The starters got the lion’s share of the reps (Chubb 706, Hill 713, Jones 574 and Street 561) but Roseboro (422), Bryant (303), Frazier (223) and Smith-Williams (152) all contributed. The biggest challenge for Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren will be rebuilding the depth.
Doeren, who has prioritized recruiting the defensive line since he was hired before the 2013 season, is confident there will be rotation between eight to 10 players again this season.
“As long as we’re going from graduating senior to players with experience behind them, then I think that’s the recipe,” Doeren said. “But when all of the sudden, you have to put seven or eight brand-new guys out there because you’ve had things happen, then that would be different.”
There will be new faces behind the expected starters. Doeren added three junior-college defensive linemen to help bridge the gap to the freshmen this year and the highly-touted recruiting class coming in 2019.
Defensive tackle Larrell Murchison actually transferred from nearby Louisburg College last year and redshirted. By all accounts, Murchison has been impressive in training camp.
“Larrell has come a long way,” Roseboro said. “He has become a really, really good player. He’s somebody I’m excited about because he comes in and he works hard and he takes care of his business.”
Doeren singled out Murchison for his development.
“Larrell has looked really good, really good,” Doeren said.
Redshirt freshman Grant Gibson is another expected contributor up front. He has been working with the first-team defense while Frazier recovers from a toe injury. Val Martin is another juco transfer at tackle and freshman Alim McNeill is expected to help right away in the middle.
“Alim’s athletic as all day,” Smith-Williams said. “He’s a big guy that can run.”
On the end, redshirt freshman Ibrahim Kante, senior Deonte Holden, juco transfer Joe Babros and freshman Joe Boletepeli are also in the mix.
Roseboro, who has 13.5 career sacks, is the one player who is expected to emerge as a the star of the group. Chubb set a high standard — setting new school records for sacks and tackles for loss — and will be difficult to replace. Roseboro doesn’t look at like he’s trying to eat up Chubb’s stats.
“I always look at like I’m leaving my own legacy,” Roseboro said.
Like Chubb, Roseboro considered leaving after his junior season for the NFL. Like Chubb, Roseboro decided it would be better to come back for a senior season.
“I haven’t been the best me,” Roseboro said. “There’s a lot I wanted to prove as a player. I knew I wasn’t ready to go yet. There’s a lot I want to accomplish here as an individual and as a team.”
With Chubb and the defensive line in the NFL, Roseboro has his chance this season. He’s not the only one. He had a table full of friends on Sunday, ready to make the most of their new opportunity.