It's no secret that the Wolfpack will be starting a trio of new linebackers when they open the 2012 campaign against Tennessee on Aug. 31. At the start of fall camp, the top of the organizational chart read: fifth-year senior Sterling Lucas in the middle, redshirt junior Rickey Dowdy on the weakside and sophomore Rodman Noel on the strongside.
The most surprising name to fans may be the name of Noel. However, the former safety has the size and athleticism to be a perfect fit at that position, and he also has a burning desire to play in the middle of the defense, if that's where the coaches place him.
"I'm open to anything that will help this team win," he said. "I'm going to do it if it helps [the team]."
The one thing that Noel may be missing to be the ideal fit on the first-team defense is linebacker experience, but that's par for the course at NC State in 2012. Lucas, a veteran of 36 games and two starts, is the most experienced one on the roster, but he missed all of last year with a knee injury and redshirted. The other eligible linebackers on this fall's team combined for just 43 snaps from scrimmage in 2011.
However, the 6-foot-3, 210 pound Noel appeared in 11 games on special teams last year while practicing at safety.
"I think [last year's experience] will help me a lot," he said. "I know what to expect in a game, I know how a game can be towards the end and experience will never hurt you.
"The move to linebacker is going well, I just have to get in the playbook and get better every day. All of the linebackers are helping me, and we've got to help each other."
Defensive coordinator Mike Archer has previously mentioned that, with the way the college game is reliant on the passing game now, the strongside linebacker position is similar to a defensive back. Last year, linebacker D.J. Green successfully made the switch that Noel is going through now and enjoyed a solid start before a foot injury ended his sophomore season. Green is ineligible this season after testing positive for a banned substance.
Noel is leaning on his safety experience to ease the transition to a position he has rarely played before.
"I've always been a safety," Noel said. "In high school, I played linebacker a little bit every once in a while, so I know what to expect. Both positions are kind of similar because you're either blitzing or replacing. The majority of our plays are cover three, so it's all similar.
"[The position change] wasn't really difficult at all because, in the defense, everybody basically does the same thing. Once you know one position, you really know all of them [in the back seven]. It's just a matter of getting repetitions."
Noel has added a little bit of weight since last year to help prepare for his move closer to the line of scrimmage. He noted that new strength and conditioning coach Corey Edmond has been a big help in that department.
"I think I put on four to five pounds, but it was all muscle," he said. "I think that will help me, but I'm still in the process of gaining weight. I think as we get further along, I'll put on more weight.
"I think Coach Ed really made a big impact on this program. He helped everyone put on good weight, get more toned and conditioned. We all look good."
Lucas has also helped Noel, and is a big reason that the youngster is so confident in himself and his teammates heading into the season opener against the Volunteers, which is now less than four weeks away.
"Sterling is a vocal guy, that's why he plays in the middle," Noel noted. "He's out there on the field helping everybody out. Being a fifth-year guy, he can help out all of the linebackers, and even the defensive line and secondary, as well.
"I just have to get the pass rushing down. If I get better at that, everything will fall into place. I think we just need to come to practice and get better every day. Once game week comes, we'll be prepared."