Preview 2007 - Defense
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2007 ECU Offense Preview
2007 ECU Depth Chart
2006 CFN East
need to know:
If the Pirate defensive line doesn’t outright dominate at times
this season, heads will roll at the end of the year. There’s
way too much talent and depth on this unit for it not to make a
quantum leap from 2006. Junior end Marcus Hands, in particular,
has the size and quickness to be special after underachieving
last fall. Penetration up front figures to help a secondary
that’s easily the weak link of this defense. Three starters,
including both corners, need to be replaced from a group that
was one of the underrated team strengths for the past two
Quentin Cotton, 68
Sacks: C.J. Wilson, 4
Interceptions: Travis Wilson, 2
Star of the
Junior DE Marcus Hands
Player that has to step up and become a star:
Junior CB Leon Best or Jerek Hewett
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Khalif Mitchell
Best pro prospect: Hands
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Junior LB
Quentin Cotton 2) Hands 3) Sophomore FS Van Eskridge
Strength of the defense: The front seven
Weakness of the defense: The secondary
The depth, size, talent and experience are in place for this to be one
of the best defensive lines in school history. An incredible eight
linemen that started games in 2006 are back to go along with North
Carolina transfer Khalif Mitchell, who has immediately displaced
one of those regulars in the lineup. The 6-6, 320-pound junior is a
two-gap tackle with next level potential that’ll plug a hole in an
interior that got progressively better after the Navy opener. Quick
enough to play some end in Chapel Hill, he has a star’s upside if he’s
dedicated on and away from the field.
Next to Mitchell at the nose will be senior Mark Robinson, the
only lineman to start all 13 games at the same position in 2006. A
consistent stopper in run defense, he led the linemen with 47 tackles
last season, but needs to make more plays for negative yards in 2007.
Although the starting ends will be juniors Marcus Hands and
Zach Slate, you can expect plenty of rotation here throughout the
season. If the line is going to be as dominant as advertised, Hands has
to regain the form that made him one of the top freshman pass-rushers of
While his big-play production plummeted despite playing in five more
games, he’s too big and too quick to underachieve a second straight
year. At 6-5 and 227 pounds, Slate is a smaller and faster option on
the other side. With so much attention being given to the other
linemen, his job will be to apply quarterback pressure off the edge.
Projected Top Reserves: Somehow, someway sophomore end
C.J. Wilson is going to get plenty of reps. He was disruptive as a
true freshman, leading the team with four sacks, before becoming
downright unblockable throughout the spring. Much more than just a
situational insertion, he’s an every down player who can also defend the
run at 6-4 and 265 pounds.
Sophomore Scotty Robinson started half the games of his first
season, collecting 23 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Still developing as an end, he can really help the defense by turning
his quickness and athleticism into more pressure this fall.
Senior Wendell Chavis, sophomore Jay Ross and junior
Brandon Setzer combined to start 12 of 13 games at tackle last
year. This year, they’ll be teaming up to fortify the second team
behind Robinson and Mitchell. Chavis is not the biggest or prettiest
player, but he just seems to get the job done, hustling his way to 39
tackles, seven tackles for loss and a pair of sacks as a junior. Setzer
is a 6-6, 305-pounder who’ll back up Robinson at the nose after spending
time on the offensive line during the off-season. Now that he’s settled
down on defense, he’ll be looking to approach his 2005 form when he had
28 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. Ross is a 315-pound
space-eater who started two games as a rookie and offers upside in run
Watch Out For… lots of batted balls at the line of
scrimmage. Not only is this an extremely tall front wall that averages
about 6-5, but the depth of the unit ensures that those legs will still
have bounce late in the second half.
Strength: Depth and experience. It’s extremely rare for a
Conference USA team to truly go two-deep on either the offensive or
defensive line. ECU achieves this with a glut of veteran talent on the
inside and outside.
Weakness: Pressure. For as much talent that the Pirates
have at this position, it sure didn’t equal sacks in 2006. East
Carolina was dead last in Conference USA in the category and struggled
mightily at containing opposing quarterbacks. The success of the entire
defense hinges on the line’s ability to reverse that trend.
Outlook: All the planets have aligned for this to be a
nasty front that continues the run-stuffing momentum from the
second half of last year. The key, however, will be how well it
pressures the quarterback, especially since the secondary is a major
Every two-deep linebacker is back from a group that constituted three of
the Pirates’ top four tacklers in 2006. The biggest surprise of the
unit was junior Quentin Cotton who unexpectedly went from special
team junky to a very productive player on the outside. A solid
all-around athlete at 6-2 and 224 pounds, he parlayed 68 tackles and a
team-best eight tackles for loss.
On the opposite side is junior Pierre Bell, a 238-pound hitter
that finished third last year with 66 stops. Originally signed as a
running back, he’s been injury prone throughout his ECU career.
Manning the middle will be senior Fred Wilson, an instant hit in
his first year removed from Georgia Military College. A strong,
instinctive linebacker at 250 pounds, he has all-league potential after
debuting with 39 solo tackles, which were good for second on the team.
Projected Top Reserves: Wilson’s understudy will be
sophomore Nick Johnson who’ll learn as a backup this year before
taking over at middle linebacker in 2008. Thrown into the mix as a true
freshman, he impressed the staff with 27 tackles and three tackles for
loss in ten games.
The staff would like to unleash sophomore Jeremy Chambliss, one
of the team’s fastest defensive players, after watching him mostly play
on special teams in 2006. Built like a safety at 6-0 and 222 pounds, he
has good lateral quickness and is a natural rushing the passer.
Watch Out For… even less blitzing from the linebackers
than last year. When John Thompson was in Greenville, ECU was
disorganized and too vulnerable when it blitzed from every angle. Greg
Hudson prefers a more conservative approach which he can employ now that
the defensive line is ready to contribute to the pass rush.
Strength: Continuity. The Pirates return three starters,
all of whom were full-timers for the first time at this level in 2006.
With that critical season of experience behind them, Cotton, Bell and
Wilson will be even more dependable this fall.
Weakness: Penetration. Cotton aside, the ECU linebackers
made too few plays behind the line of scrimmage last year. No, they
won’t have the luxury of blitzing much, but more penetration from the
front seven doesn’t just apply to the defensive line.
Outlook: Although it won’t make a ton of spectacular
plays, this is a steady group of starting linebackers that will each
gobble up more than 60 tackles while helping ECU crack the top half of
Conference USA run defenses.
One of the league’s best pass defenses, two years running, is in
the midst of a major overhaul in 2007. Three starters have
departed, leaving a collection of parts that the staff will try
to assemble into something positive before September. To help
matters, sophomore Van Eskridge has moved from outside
linebacker to free safety where his 6-0, 206-pound frame is
better suited. Tough enough to bag 60 tackles and 7.5 tackles
for loss as a freshman linebacker, he’ll be an enforcer in the
secondary for the Pirates this season.
At strong safety will be sophomore Chris Mattocks, a very
physical 206-pound defender that lettered last season with nine
games on special teams.
The fate of the pass defense will depend heavily on how well the
cornerbacks, juniors Leon Best and Jerek Hewett,
adjust to being full-time starters. While Best has good size
and was in the lineup for two games in 2006, Hewett is being
asked to make the jump from a part-time special teamer to one of
the most important players on the defense. Conference USA is
loaded with quality receivers, all of whom will be looking to
expose this pair of green defensive backs.
Projected Top Reserves: If Best or Hewett stumble, Skip
Holtz won’t hesitate to summons senior Travis Williams
from the sidelines. He’ll get burned from time to time, but
also chipped in 55 tackles a year ago and led the Pirates with
eight passes broken up.
ECU loves the potential of 6-3, 215-pound free safety Melvin
Patterson. A sensational all-around athlete that can bring
the payload, the redshirt freshman be knocking on the first unit
door as soon as he completely digests the defensive system.
Patterson is one of the few reasons to get excited about the
Pirate defensive backfield.
Watch Out For… Patterson to be in the lineup
before Halloween. Physically and intellectually, he’s the total
package in a secondary that’s pining for consistent playmakers.
Strength: Eskridge. He’ll be bringing a
linebacker’s mentality to an East Carolina secondary that
presently lacks an identity. Receivers may be able to beat the
Pirates over the top, but they better know where No. 37 is when
crossing over the middle.
Weakness: The corners. The new cornerbacks are
going to be very susceptible from the opening kickoff of the
season. Best is a former walk-on, Hewett has no experience and
Williams hasn’t been able to hold the job when he’s had it.
Outlook: This is a wart, and the staff knows it.
In a best case scenario, the evolving pass rush helps mask a
secondary that’s young and very much unproven in pass coverage.
The Pirates will be breaking in a new punter and placekicker on a
special teams unit that was no better than average last year. Losing
the services of punter Ryan Dougherty really hurts after he averaged
43.6 yards and consistently pinned opponents deep with his kicks.
Taking his place will either be redshirt freshman Nathan
Przestrzelski or sophomore Matt Dodge. The 6-5, 175-pound
Przestrzelski is a walk-on who can also kick field goals in a pinch. He
hardly distinguished himself in the spring, making Dodge the favorite to
be taking snaps in September. Dodge is a transfer from Appalachian
State where he averaged 40 yards per on a team that won the I-AA
National Championship. He’s got big game experience which is a distinct
advantage over Przestrzelski.
After playing sparingly in four games and making 3-of-5 kicks last year,
sophomore Ben Hartman is poised to take over the placekicking job
full-time in 2007. The former walk-on shined in April, showing good
accuracy and improved leg strength.
The Pirates can use a few more big plays from their return game this
fall. Senior kickoff returner Chris Johnson has steadily gotten
better since his freshman year, averaging 23 yards and taking a kick
back 96 yards for a score versus Southern Miss in an all-conference
season. The job of fielding punts will be handled by either junior
Travis Williams, redshirt freshman Dwayne Harris or senior
Steven Rogers. Williams showed the most pop last year, averaging
11.8 yards on five returns.
Projected Top Reserves: The loser of the battle between
Przestrzelski and Dodge will be a punting insurance policy in case the
other guy flops. Hartman will be backed up by Murphy Paderick, a
lightly recruited walk-on who redshirted in 2006.
Watch Out For… Hartman’s continued development as the
placekicker. He looked good in April which is a sigh of relief for a
program that scores sporadically and typically plays in a lot of games
decided by less than a touchdown.
Strength: Johnson. Arguably the most dangerous return man
in Conference USA, Johnson has the jets and the moves to ignite a feeble
East Carolina offense that was ninth in the league and 79th
nationally in scoring last year.
Weakness: Punting. The drop-off from Dougherty will be
noticeable after neither of the inexperienced replacements built any
separation during the off-season.
Outlook: The punters will struggle, however, the real
barometer of special teams success in 2007 will be Hartman who has to be
a consistent weapon for a Pirate offense that too often stalls in the