Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy had chased around NC State quarterback Russell Wilson on the practice fields, but he learned some valuable lessons against Virginia Tech junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Sweezy had his most extensive action of the season against the Hokies Nov. 21, and he made it count. Sweezy notched one sack, three quarterback pressures and three tackles in 37 plays in the 38-10 loss. He also learned that just because a quarterback appears down, doesn't mean he is - you need to continue playing until the whistle blows.
On a second-and-15 play in the first quarter, Sweezy and junior defensive end Michael Lemon sandwiched Taylor, who was going to the ground. However, he still mustered the arm strength to throw a pass to wide receiver Jarrett Boykin for 17 yards to the NC State 2-yard line for a first down. Redshirt freshman running back Ryan Williams ran it in for a touchdown from a yard out two plays later to give Virginia Tech a 17-7 lead.
"I should have had three or four sacks [versus the Hokies]," Sweezy said. "[Taylor's] shifty, can feel good pressure, and he just goes the other way. He's quick, too. You just have to play him.
"Younger kids like me will just learn from it and be ready next year."
Sweezy learned some lessons along the way that can be gained only by playing in games. He'll have his shot next year against elusive quarterbacks such as Taylor and Cincinnati's Zach Collaros.
"They [Wilson and Taylor] are both good quarterbacks with the same kind of style," Sweezy said. "It's a challenge. If they get out of the box, it's trouble. We had practiced all week to try and keep him inside the box, and not lose contain."
Sweezy followed up his Virginia Tech performance with one tackle in 18 plays against North Carolina Nov. 28. He also caught the eye of coach Tom O'Brien, who praised him following the Hokies' game as a building block for the future of the defensive line, along with junior Natanu Mageo and true freshman Brian Slay.
Sweezy will compete to replace graduating senior Alan-Michael Cash at defensive tackle, while Mageo and Slay will try to replace Leroy Burgess at the other defensive tackle spot.
Sweezy's path to defensive tackle was filled with bumps in the road. The two-star Rivals.com recruit from Mooresville (N.C.) High gained nearly 45 pounds from his junior year to his senior year of high school, checking in at 6-5, 248 pounds. He was a standout linebacker at Mooresville, racking up 181 tackles in 12 games his senior year after compiling 102 tackles his junior season.
Sweezy was first tried out at defensive end during his redshirt season at NC State. However, he then switched to middle linebacker during the spring. The experiment didn't last long, and he was moved back to defensive end, but posted only one tackle in 13 plays in two games during his redshirt freshman season. He eventually moved to defensive tackle, grew into a legit 280-pounder, and has finally found a home.
Sweezy finished his redshirt sophomore season with 17 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks for minus-22 yards and 10 quarterback hurries in 268 plays. He made his first career start against Gardner-Webb Sept. 19, and posted a season-high four tackles against Duke. He recorded one sack against Murray State, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
"Alan-Michael Cash has taught me pretty much everything I know at defensive tackle," Sweezy said. "It was my first year playing defensive tackle, and I'd sit inside meeting rooms, and if he sees something I'm doing wrong, he'll tell me," Sweezy said. "He'll share with me what he would do. He has helped me a lot."
Cash knows Sweezy will be ready to perform next year, and tried to get him ready for the task.
"I told him that they [offensive linemen] are waiting for you to come up, so they could grab you," Cash said. "You have to work your extension and bull rush them. He did that [against Virginia Tech], and got a sack, so I was really happy for him."