N.C. State coach Dave Doeren was pleased to spot Mike Stevens in the Pack’s weight room Monday, bending his legs, lifting some iron.
Stevens, a senior cornerback, has a lower-leg injury and will miss Saturday’s season-opener against South Carolina in Charlotte, Doeren said. But Stevens’ injury will not require surgery, and he might not be sidelined long, the coach added.
“He’s doing way better than expected,” Doeren said. “He won’t miss a ton of time.”
Nick McCloud, a 6-foot, 189-pound sophomore, will be the starter at left corner opposite right corner Johnathan Alston, a redshirt senior who will be making his first start in the secondary since his days as a safety at Bunn High.
Doeren said Stevens, who started 12 games last season, was hurt on a play near the goal line that had minimal contact between Stevens and wide receiver Stephen Louis.
“It was not a typical thing where you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, he blew his knee out,’ ” Doeren said. “It just looked like a bone bruise or strain type thing. ...
“We were lucky. Any time you have something that’s non-surgical or you’re going to get a guy back, especially a senior that you need, I felt really good for Mike and for the team.”
Alston was shifted to cornerback from wide receiver a year ago in fall camp, then redshirted, and was named the Pack’s special teams scout team player of the year.
“He was moved for this reason,” Doeren said. “We thought Johnathan could be a really good player on that side of the football if he took advantage of his year in the developmental program, and he did that.”
Doeren said he didn’t expect any kind of stage fright from Alston, who has made some big plays in big moments, the coach said.
“This isn’t going to be a deal where he’s nervous,” Doeren said. “I know he’s really excited to play in this football game.”
McCloud, from Rock Hill, was one of two true freshmen used on defense last season. He was in for 36 plays as N.C. State topped North Carolina to end the regular season, then started for an injured Stevens against Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl, getting 81 snaps.
“He’s gained a lot of weight, which he needed to do, and has good length,” Doeren said.
James Valdez, a redshirt junior, will back up McCloud at left corner in the opener. Behind Alston are Nick Lacy, a redshirt senior, and redshirt freshman Bryce Banks.
Doeren said Valdez had been suspended for academic reasons but did well academically in summer school and then had a strong fall camp, saying, “He’s earned his way back into the two-deep.”
The Gamecocks, 6-7 last season in Will Muschamp’s first year as coach, have experience and impact players on offense, Doeren said. Quarterback Jake Bentley passed for 390 yards and three scores in the Gamecocks’ 46-39 Birmingham Bowl loss to South Florida last season, and Deebo Samuel – South Carolina’s answer to the Pack’s Jaylen Samuels – is an all-purpose back who had 59 catches in 2016.
“I felt great about our corner depth going into camp,” Doeren said. “Then you take Mike out and all of a sudden it’s a little thinner. I like the five guys who are there. But I’d like six.”