ACC: Rickey Dowdy

M.J. Salahuddin was one of five true freshmen to play for NC State last season. But he toiled largely unnoticed, as a key member on special teams.

He was a backup linebacker, but did not get many snaps there. And when he went into the spring, he was largely unnoticed as well, as a backup on the outside. That all changed in 15 practices.

Salahuddin quickly emerged as a playmaker on a defense in search of one. So much so, that defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable decided to move Salahuddin to middle linebacker before the team's first spring scrimmage. Salahuddin arrived at NC State as a safety. He had never played middle linebacker in his life.

But he took to the position right away, and ended up with a team-high eight tackles in the team's spring game last month.

"M.J. is consistent, he has a great motor, he's vocal," coach Dave Doeren said. "He can run, and he's got a good skill-set from a movement standpoint. He's a tough kid that loves football. He can play outside linebacker as well. Really, Coach Huxtable was trying to find the combination of three guys that were playing the best and who fit best in the middle out of the three between D.J. Green and Brandon Pittman and M.J. We felt like those three guys made the most plays.

"So there are still some guys competing. I know Zach Gentry had a good spring for us as well. But M.J. is just really productive, a high motor, positive guy that we liked having out on the field."

The Wolfpack had to replace two of their starting linebackers on defense, with Rickey Dowdy and Sterling Lucas gone. Lucas started every game at middle linebacker last season. Salahuddin backed up Rodman Noel on the strongside. But now, Green is ahead of Noel at that spot, and Salahuddin is ahead of Gentry in the middle.

There is plenty more work to be done between now and fall camp, but if spring is any indication, Salahuddin could make a major impact once the season begins.

ACC stat watch

September, 19, 2012
Let's check in on the NCAA stats to see how players in the ACC stack up through the first three weeks of the season.

I have included players that rank in the Top 10 of every individual statistical category.

With seven field goal kickers still perfect on the year, the ACC leads all conferences nationally in field goal percentage and field goals made. Boston College junior Nate Freese leads the way, having made all seven of his field goal attempts this year, followed closely by Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro, who has been perfect on six attempts. Catanzaro tied the Clemson school record for consecutive field goals against Furman, making his 14th straight. Jake Wieclaw of Miami, Ross Martin of Duke, Casey Barth of North Carolina, Drew Jarrett of Virginia and Dustin Hopkins of Florida State also are perfect so far.

The ACC has two players ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in total passing yards. One may be a little unexpected. Chase Rettig of Boston College ranks No. 8, with 951 yards on the season. The other is North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, who checks in at No. 10 with 870 yards.

Three league players rank in in the Top 10 in receptions per game: No.6 DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson (8.67), No. 8 Alex Amidon of Boston College (8.33) and No. 10 Michael Campanaro of Wake Forest (8). Amidon ranks No. 2 in the nation in total receiving yards with 366, while Hopkins ranks No. 8 with 319.

Miami freshman Duke Johnson is the only ACC player ranked in the Top 10 in all-purpose yards, checking in at No. 2 with an average of 212.7 yards per game. Johnson also ranks in a tie for No. 9 in scoring with an average of 12 points per game.

On defense, the ACC has three players ranked in the top 10 in total tackles -- including national leader Nick Clancy at Boston College with 43. His teammate, Kevin Pierre-Louis has 36 to rank No. 7 and Jack Tyler at Virginia Tech ranks No. 10 with 35.

Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner leads the nation in sacks with 6.5, and tackles for loss (three pg).

Ross Cockrell of Duke is tied for No. 4 in the nation with three interceptions, and leads the nation in passes defended (nine). Teammate Will Monday checks in at No. 10 in the nation in punting with a 45.6-yard average.

Lee Butler of Duke is No. 3 in the nation in punt return average (23.8) and Khalek Shepherd of Virginia is No. 7 in kickoff return yardage (37.8).

Demetrius Hartsfield of Maryland, Anthony Chickillo of Miami and Rickey Dowdy of NC State have each recovered two fumbles to rank in a tie for No. 3.

Scouting NC State's defensive line

March, 12, 2010
Sure, Virginia Tech's defensive line has some issues to work out, but nobody in the ACC has to deal with replacing all four starters up front like NC State. The good news for the Wolfpack is that there is some experience to work with. The bad news? That experience totals a combined six starts among four players.

Here's a look at one of the areas where there will be the most competition in the ACC this spring, and who's in the mix:

  • Audi Augustin (6-2, 260, *Sr.): He has played in 36 career games but has been stuck behind Willie Young. Until now. Last year Augustin made 11 quarterback pressures, the fourth-highest total on the team. He also blocked a field goal in the win over Maryland, but missed the season finale with North Carolina with an injury.
  • Jeff Rieskamp (6-3, 235, *Jr.): Missed last season with a sports hernia and had surgery in October.
  • Michael Lemon (6-4, 267, *Sr.): Showed promise last year despite joining the team just two weeks before the season started and should contend for a starting job.
  • David Akinniyi (6-4, 255, *Sr.): He enrolled in January and has one year of eligibility remaining. He transferred from Northeastern University, which announced in November that it was cutting its football program.
  • Darryl Cato-Bishop (6-4, 281, *Fr.): Redshirted last year.
  • Rickey Dowdy (6- 2, 240, *Fr.): Redshirted last year.
  • Natanu Mageo (6-3, 285, Sr.): After transferring from New Mexico Military Junior College last year, Mageo played in all 12 games as a backup and intercepted a pass at Florida State.
  • J.R. Sweezy (6-3, 295, *Jr.): The backup earned one start against Gardner-Webb and played sparingly in all 12 games. He was in for a season-high 37 snaps against Virginia Tech, when he had three tackles, including an eight-yard sack and three quarterback pressures.
  • Markus Kuhn (6-4, 303, *Jr.): He added about 20 pounds while redshirting last season, but had three starts in 2008.
  • Brian Slay (6-3, 290, So.): He gained valuable experience as a true freshman, playing in 10 games for 115 snaps. He made three tackles in just nine plays against Boston College. Six of his eight quarterback pressures came in the last three games.