2013 East Carolina Preview – Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 28, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - East Carolina Pirates Defense


East Carolina Pirates

Preview 2013 - Defense


- 2013 East Carolina Preview | 2013 East Carolina Offense
- 2013 East Carolina Defense | 2013 East Carolina Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Eight starters return to an East Carolina defense that hasn't truly had teeth since Skip Holtz was the head coach. The Pirates got slapped around routinely in 2012, including down the stretch to finish 87th nationally in total D and 88th in scoring defense. First-year coordinator Rick Smith will continue to employ a 3-4 approach, mixing in multiple looks. He inherits a veteran team littered with upperclassmen throughout the two-deep. The Pirates will be above average in the front seven, with ends Lee Pegues and Terrell Stanley, and linebackers Jeremy Grove and Derrell Johnson bolstering a surprisingly good run defense. Where the unit needs to grow the most is in the defensive backfield. ECU allowed 28 touchdown passes in 2012, picked off only 10 balls and is devoid of a true lockdown pass defender. Unless the pass rush is among the nastiest in Conference USA, the secondary will again be ripe for the picking.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jeremy Grove, 83
Sacks: Derrell Johnson, 7
Interceptions: Chip Thompson, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Derrell Johnson
Player who has to step up and become a star:Junior CB Detric Allen
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Terrell Stanley
Best pro prospect: Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) Junior LB Jeremy Grove, 3) Senior FS Damon Magazu
Strength of the defense: Run defense, linebackers, safeties, experience
Weakness of the defense: The pass rush, pass coverage, third-down D, red zone D

Defensive Line

Injuries prevented East Carolina from getting a good look at all of its D-linemen, an evaluation process that won’t be complete until the summer. Coming out of spring, 6-2, 294-pound senior Lee Pegues had locked down one of the starting jobs at defensive end. He opened all but one game in 2012, finishing with 36 tackles and 4.5 stops for loss to earn honorable mention All-Conference USA. Big and strong, he has the right build for an end in the Pirates’ 3-4 package.

At least for now, 6-2, 266-pound Terrell Stanley is listed as the team’s other starting end. The versatile and physical sophomore earned snaps at both the nose and end a year ago, starting the Southern Miss win. He notched 32 tackles, best among reserve linemen, 4.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and six pass breakups.

Anchoring the nose will be 6-1, 322-pound junior Terry Williams, who started nine of 11 games in 2012. Showing good foot speed for a big man, he notched 46 tackles, 5.5 of which were for minus yards, impressive numbers for a tackle. He’ll be even stouter with that full year of experience now behind him.

The jostling for reps at defensive end will be a fluid situation since a pair of seniors, 6-4, 256-pound Matt Milner and 6-1, 275-pound Justin Dixon missed spring with a hip and knee injury, respectively. Milner is a likely reserve when the season begins, but if pressed into an expanded role, will be able to call upon 22 career games as a starter. Dixon is still working his way back from a serious injury that felled him after just two games. He’s hoping to be cleared for contact before the opener.

Watch Out For .... the impact of rookie Demitri McGill. The three-star Virginia Beach recruit is 6-1 and 300 pounds, yet flashes the athleticism to be considered at both the nose and at end. While a starting gig is unlikely this early in his career, he’s talented enough to avoid a redshirt and crack the rotation.
Strength: Active big men. It’s taken a couple of years, but East Carolina really likes the makeup of its linemen. The projected starting lineup averages close to 300 pounds, yet the tackles and the ends all slide well and pursue the ball on good angles. All three linemen are capable of playing smaller than their size when needed.
Weakness: Sacks. Active? Yes. Consistent at tracking down quarterbacks? Not quite. Stanley’s 2.5 sacks led all Pirates linemen last year, forcing the outside linebackers to pick up the slack like pseudo defensive ends. The linemen are big and strong, but the quicker quarterbacks on the schedule will easily out run them.
Outlook: The line has a chance to surprise in 2013, especially if Milner and Dixon are healthy enough to provide quality reps off the bench. Pegues, Williams and especially Stanley are all riding northern trajectories, and their size and strength will again be assets in run defense. Remove game against Navy, a triple-option based team, and ECU would have been top 20-ranked against the run.
Rating: 5

Linebackers

The strength of the Pirates D will be at linebacker, where six players who started games in 2012 return to action in 2013. The leading man is 6-2, 264-pound senior Derrell Johnson, who lines up on the outside. The converted defensive end made a successful shift back one level, earning Second Team All-Conference USA with 62 tackles, 11 stops for loss, a team-high seven sacks, eight quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries. His blend of quickness, power and burst was exactly what the coaches were seeking in a stand-up linebacker. Johnson was at his best in November, lending hope he can carry a head of steam into this fall.

Forming a bookend on the outside with Johnson is 6-3, 227-pound senior Gabriel Woullard, who has also played collegiately at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Pierce (Calif.) College. He wet his feet with eight starters in his ECU debut, making 49 tackles, five stops for loss, 3.5 sacks and an interception.

Anchoring the inside will once again be junior Jeremy Grove, a third-year starter and former Conference USA Defensive Freshman of the Year. Although his production dipped in 2012 to 83 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss and two forced fumbles, he still led the Pirates in tackles. The 6-1, 240-pound is quick and instinctive, sporting many of the skills that the staff looks for in an inside linebacker. Grove has gotten a little bigger and a little stronger during the offseason in an effort to better handle opposing linemen that wander to the second level.

Next to Grove on the inside will be 6-3, 242-pound Kyle Tudor, the hard-nosed, well-coached three-time letterwinner. After sharing duties with Daniel Drake the last two years, and starting 10 contests, he’s itching to finally be a full-timer. In the best season of his career to date, the senior made 62 tackles, two stops for loss and a sack in 2012.

Junior Maurice Falls and sophomore Montese Overton will push for reps and provide terrific depth on the outside. The 6-2, 247-pound Falls started the first two games of 2012, finishing with 20 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a team-high three forced fumbles. Overton laid a solid foundation in his injury-plagued rookie year, starting three of his eight games, and chipping in with 29 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and a sack. On the inside, 6-1, 235-pound senior Ty Holmes is an experienced vet off the bench and on special teams. He made a personal-best 24 tackles a season ago.

Watch Out For.... the progress of true freshman Devaris Brunson. One of the school’s highest-rated recruits in recent years chose East Carolina over NC State and Syracuse. He flies all over the field, exploding upon impact. Can Brunson sift through the traffic of a deep roster? If he can add weight and absorb the playbook, he’s gifted enough to challenge for playing time on the outside.
Strength: Depth. It took some development on behalf of the coaching staff, but East Carolina is now at a point where it can go two-deep with experienced players on the second level. And the influx of quality recruits from the region will further bolster the situation. The Pirates are experienced, fundamentally-sound and thick enough to continue supporting the run defense.
Weakness: Pass defense. It’s a bit of a nit-pick for this unit, but it is prone to being out of position and a little vulnerable when the ball is in the air. This is a big collection of linebackers that can get exposed when paired with smaller skill position players.
Outlook: This is going to be the strength of the ECU defense in 2013. The unit is big, talented and deep enough to keep everyone fresh throughout the year. The linebackers will be especially rugged against the run, filling lanes and preventing yards after contact. When combined with the line, the Pirates will be strong in the front seven.
Rating: 6

Secondary

As is often the case in Greenville, the pass defense is a source of consternation for the Pirates, which yielded 28 touchdown passes last fall. While the cornerbacks have plenty to prove, the safeties will attempt to pick up more of the slack. Senior FS Damon Magazu, in particular, has been a perennial playmaker out of the defensive backfield. The two-year starter has shown a habit for being around the ball, whether it’s as a run defender or in coverage. A feisty 5-11, 204-pounder, Magazu is a self-made, high-energy defender, with the keen instincts that come with a ton of reps as a Pirate.

Topping the depth chart at strong safety is senior Chip Thompson. He quickly secured the starting job in his debut out of Hinds (Miss.) Community College, finishing the year with 57 tackles and three interceptions. He’s big and aggressive, bringing a linebacker’s mindset to the last line of defense.

Another returning starter, whose career began in the JUCO ranks, is 5-10, 182-pound senior Adonis Armstrong. The Pirates’ field corner started nine games in his first year in Greenville, chipping in 43 tackles, an interception and a team-high 14 pass breakups. With continued development, he’ll likely become the team’s most dependable defensive back in coverage.

The race for the opening at boundary corner begins with 6-0, 200-pound Detric Allen, whose experience is very limited. The junior has only played in four career games, making one tackle a year ago. He has good size, and is coming off a solid offseason. Loading up to challenge Allen again this summer will be 5-10, 183-pound sophomore Josh Hawkins. Hawkins actually has more seasoning than Allen, having played in 12 games, started three and made 13 tackles off the bench last season.

If Thompson creates an opening at strong safety, 6-1, 196-pound junior Lamar Ivey will be there to take advantage. He’s provided valuable reps off the bench over the past two seasons, logging 25 tackles and his first career pick in 2012.

Watch Out For .... the adjustment of senior Michael Dobson to defense. The 6-0, 186-pound former running back has shifted sides of the ball, and will serve as a backup to Magazu at free safety. He flashed his athleticism over the last three years by rushing for 473 yards and four scores on 136 carries, while adding 35 receptions for 294 yards.
Strength: The safeties. The Pirates like their depth and talent at the safety position. Magazu is an all-conference candidate, and Thompson is poised to bring stability to strong safety. The addition of Dobson to Ivey gives ECU two seasoned veterans off the bench.
Weakness: Coverage softness. Not only did the Pirates allow those 28 touchdown passes, but they also picked off just 10, a horrible ratio for a pass defense. Armstrong is improving, but it’s not a good sign when he’s a unit’s stopper out of the secondary. This could be the weakest link of the D, if not the entire team.
Outlook: At best, the Pirates will be average in pass defense in 2013. The unit is marginally talented where it's needed most. Yeah, the defensive backs will step up and lay the lumber, but in coverage, they'll once again be a second-rate overall unit that bows to even marginally potent passing attacks.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Assistant coach Kirk Doll was successful in hastening the development of junior Warren Harvey, who enjoyed a very successful debut as the regular placekicker. He nailed 15-of-20 field goal attempts, including a 54-yarder versus Southern Miss, and was 50-of-50 on extra points. After earning honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2012, he’s looking for more honors this year.

First-time P Trent Tignor, too, earned honorable All-Conference USA in his debut as a full-timer. The strong-legged 6-5, 208-pounder averaged just less than 43 yards per attempt, and will once again be the team’s holder on Harvey’s field goals and extra points.

Watch Out For… the determination of the Pirates’ return specialists. Junior Justin Hardy was the primary punt returner in 2012, but his numbers were pedestrian, and he’s far more important to the offense as a receiver. And kick returner Derrick Harris is no longer with the program, meaning someone else will need to step up.
Strength: The legs. Both Harvey and Tignor were pleasant surprises in 2012, stabilizing an area of the team thought to be a potential disaster before the season began. Both will vie for all-conference recognition, quietly helping boost the performance of the offense and the defense.
Weakness: The coverage teams. East Carolina worked overtime last year to correct its problems in coverage. It didn’t pay off. The Pirates were a dismal 89th in the country at covering punts, and an even worse 101st nationally on kickoffs, allowing two to be taken back for six.
Outlook: There are concerns, to be sure, like the return game and the coverage units, but the ECU special teams is on much better footing than it was a year ago. The development of both Harvey and Tignor gives the Pirates a pair of reliable and powerful legs at placekicker and punter, respectively.
Rating: 5
 
- 2013 East Carolina Preview | 2013 East Carolina Offense
- 2013 East Carolina Defense | 2013 East Carolina Depth Chart