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2010 East Carolina Preview – Defense
East Carolina CB Travis Simmons
East Carolina CB Travis Simmons
Posted Jun 8, 2010 2010 Preview - East Carolina Pirate Defense

East Carolina Pirates

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 East Carolina Preview | 2010 East Carolina Offense
- 2010 East Carolina Defense | 2010 East Carolina Depth Chart
- East Carolina Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: At least for the short term, the good times are over for an East Carolina defense, which was the catalyst for the program’s recent success. That’ll happen when you lose nine starters and four first or second-team all-stars to the pros. New coordinator Brian Mitchell has a full plate in his first season. Besides trying to firm up a two-deep with a bunch of new faces, he wants to get his Pirates playing quicker and more aggressive, mixing in more blitzes and man-to-man looks. If there are strengths on the unit, they’re located at tackle and cornerback. Josh Smith and Antonio Allison are up-and-comers up front and Emanuel Davis is one of Conference USA’s best pass defenders. It’s a start, but this defense will struggle badly at times this fall as it adapts to life amid so much change.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Emanuel Davis, 69
Sacks: Josh Smith, 4
Interceptions: Emanuel Davis, 2

Star of the defense: Junior CB Emanuel Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Steve Spence
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Antonio Allison
Best pro prospect: Davis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis, 2) Senior DT Josh Smith, 3) Spence
Strength of the defense: The tackles, the secondary, creating turnovers
Weakness of the defense: Rebuilt front seven, no proven pass rushers, questionable depth, run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: No position underscores the turnover taking place at East Carolina more than the line, which has lost five lettermen, four starters, and two first team all-stars. The rebuilding won’t be done in one year. The Pirates will be forced to build around 6-1, 274-pound senior DT Josh Smith , who’s earned a letter in each of the last two years and had 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks in 2009. Undersized even after adding weight, the former walk-on makes penetration and inspires with his quickness, motor, and determination.

Next to Smith at nose tackle is 6-4, 286-pound junior Antonio Allison , a bigger interior option and a better traditional run-stuffer. He was all set to earn his second letter in 2009, playing in the first two games and making six stops, before a foot injury prematurely ended his season. Healthy again, he has the potential to grown into an all-leaguer before he’s through.

At defensive end, the Pirates couldn’t be in a more precarious situation. Sophomore Marke Powell earned a letter last season, but that was at linebacker and he played enough minutes to make 12 tackles in 11 games. Oh, and at 6-3 and 198 pounds, he’s going to be a non-factor in run defense. However, when not locked on to a blocker, he showed in the spring that he has the closing speed to be a nuisance coming off the edge.

Over on the other side, 6-4, 235-pound redshirt freshman Matt Milner has risen to the top of the depth chart. An ACC-caliber prospect coming out of high school, he has a blend of speed, strength, and intelligence to be productive early in his career. Built like an outside linebacker, he’ll create pressure, but holding up against the run will be a problem.

Projected Top Reserves: If the Pirates take a situational approach to end, junior Maurice Mercer could supplant Milner on obvious running downs. At 6-5 and 264 pounds, he’s a much bigger option at the point of attack. Although he’s played sparingly in 17 games in his first two seasons, that’s about to change.

At defensive tackle, East Carolina recruited Diavalo Simpson out of East Mississippi Community College to compete for playing time immediately. While he’s going to be undersized against bigger and more physical opponents, he has the quickness off the snap to make plays for minus yards and get penetration in the backfield.

Watch Out For .... sophomore DT Michael Brooks . The 6-3, 280-pounder finished the spring on crutches with a knee injury, the last thing this line needed. He was sharp as a true freshman in 2009, playing in 13 games and making 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. His return would be some welcome good news for this group.
Strength: Quickness. As a group, the Pirate linemen are small, quick, and able to create disruptions in space. On the outside, they’re basically a bunch of linebackers, who will spend a lot of time in the backfield if someone doesn’t get a consistent hat on them.
Weakness: Run defense. Unlike a year ago, the Pirates are going to be painfully thin on stout run stuffers. In 2009, the program averaged more than 290 pounds on the front wall. This fall, that number could plummet all the way down to 250 pounds, which will be an invitation for opponents to run it right down their throats.
Outlook: The program knew this was going to be a need area when the 2009 team was loaded with veterans, and junior DT Linval Joseph declared early for the draft. Still, it’s even worse than anyone could have imagined because the old staff didn’t build a lot of depth. After flourishing here recently, East Carolina will take its lumps at the line of scrimmage in 2010.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: Just like the defensive line, the linebackers have been wiped out through graduation. Three of last year’s top four tacklers are gone, leaving the Pirates with plenty of question marks. In the middle, 6-2, 225-pound junior Steve Spence appears to have secured the job. He’s earned a letter in each of the last two seasons, playing in 27 games and making a career-high 15 tackles in 2009. Mature and instinctive, he has the right personality for this position and promotion.

At weakside, aptly-named 5-11, 223-pound Dustin Lineback gets his first opportunity to be a regular after playing a complimentary role on defense and special teams the last two seasons. A year ago, he’d made 29 tackles through 10 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. A self-made former walk-on, he never quits on a play or gives less than his total effort.

Although 5-11, 203-pound senior Wes Pittman hasn’t seen the field much over the last three years, it looks as if he’ll get a chance to make a statement in his final season. Mostly a special teamer a year ago, he made nine tackles, yet impressed the staff in the spring with his range and athleticism.

Projected Top Reserves: While 6-1, 231-pound junior Cliff Perryman sat out the spring with a right shoulder injury, he figures to be back in the summer in time to provide depth at middle linebacker. He has 20 career appearances, starting four games in 2008, and eight tackles last season. He plays with good pad level and has shown the range to make plays from sideline-to-sideline.

One of just three true freshman to play last season, 6-0, 200-pound sophomore Lamar McLendon used his superior speed to earn reps on a veteran D and make eight tackles in 12 games. He gives the staff a number of options on how to use him, but first must recover from a left knee injury that prevented him from playing in the spring.

Watch Out For .... the depth chart to change like a tote board in the summer. The new staff is still searching for the best combination, which will require more than just 15 spring practices. Plus, with so many veterans missing the session to rehab injuries, the competition will be opened back up in August.
Strength: Veteran leadership. Okay, so you don’t get better by losing Nick Johnson, Jeremy Chambliss, and Chris Mattocks, but the Pirates do return eight upperclassmen. With so much change and uncertainty taking place here, it’ll help to have so many mature vets to maintain some stability.
Weakness: Talent. If you’re looking to scout for NFL types, this is not the place to be. In fact, maybe with the exception of Spence, East Carolina isn’t likely to harbor an all-star on this unit either.
Outlook: Pedestrian is one of the nicer descriptions for this year’s Pirate linebackers. The ensemble is short on star power and dripping with mediocrity. They have a number of players, who are better served as special teamers, and not enough girth and size to hold up against power running teams.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: Even after losing all-star FS Van Eskridge to graduation, the defensive backfield will be the program’s most stable unit on D. Ten letterwinners return, headed by 5-11, 190-pound junior Emanuel Davis , a first team All-Conference USA corner last year. More than just the program’s best cover guy, he’s not afraid to hit, collecting 69 tackles, four tackles for loss, two picks, and a team-high dozen pass breakups.

Although the competition isn’t over, 5-10, 177-pound senior Travis Simmons has the lead for the other corner spot at this time. He’s a seasoned veteran of 38 games and 22 starts and has great speed, but will still need to be a little more consistent and productive to stay atop the depth chart. Not big enough to out muscle receivers, he had 52 tackles and just one pick and two pass breakups.

The veteran on the inside is 5-11, 185-pound junior FS Derek Blacknall . Mostly a special teamer in his first year, he got more snaps on defense in 2009, starting a pair of games and making 16 tackles. A nice all-around athlete, with the improving cover skills of a corner, he needs to show he can handle the promotion and the physical component of playing this position.

At strong safety, the Pirates could be turning to a first-year player, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer Bradley Jacobs . While the 5-10, 190-pound junior lacks ideal size for the position, he plays with aggression and is a good open field tackler. Although he’ll get run over at times, his intensity and style of play will mesh nicely with what East Carolina wants to do.

Projected Top Reserves: East Carolina cannot wait for the return of 6-1, 203-pound senior Dekota Marshall , who missed the spring and the end of last season with two broken bones in his lower leg. Prior to getting hurt, he’d started five of nine games, making 23 tackles. He has the size to jam receivers and support the run, and the versatility to play multiple positions.

After playing well in his first season, 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Leonard Paulk is aiming to be the Pirates’ top cornerback off the bench. A backup in 13 games and special teams contributor, he had 15 tackles and improved as the year progressed. Combining speed with his toughness, he could be in the starting lineup in 2011.

Watch Out For .... Marshall’s health status. East Carolina needs him to be back at full-strength before the opener and able to provide some much-needed depth in the secondary. The senior has already stated, however, that if he’s less than 100%, he might not participate with the team in 2010.
Strength: Ball skills. For two years running now, no team in Conference USA has picked off more passes than East Carolina. The corners break nicely on passes and the safeties defend like corners, a combination that equals trouble for opposing quarterbacks, who are careless with the ball.
Weakness: Safety. The Pirates were a little thin here last year. Now that Eskridge has exhausted his eligibility, it’s a potential crisis. As it stands now, the projected starters, Blacknall and Jacobs, are undersized and have just a pair of starts between them.
Outlook: If there’s a strength of this rebuilt defense, this is clearly it. East Carolina has a potential lockdown corner in Davis and a recent history of developing quality defensive backs. How well will they hold up without nearly as much support from the front seven? That’s a question the secondary will have to answer throughout the 2010 season.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Now that inconsistent Ben Hartman has graduated, East Carolina finds itself auditioning new placekickers. The favorite for now will be junior Ben Ryan , who missed his only two attempts a year ago. A former walk-on, he showed a strong leg on kickoffs, but still has a long way to go in terms of accuracy.

The Pirates will also need a new punter to take the place of all-star Matt Dodge. The choices are slim, pitting redshirt freshman Matt Millisor and Nathan Przestrzelski . Millisor has the better technique, and is also pushing Ryan for the starting placekicker job.

Przestrzelski has been around the program longer and has a 6-5, 195-pound punter’s frame, but has no relevant experience at this level. That’ll change if he can win this dead heat that’s going to continue in the summer.

East Carolina has countless issues in the offseason. The return game is not one of them. Seniors Dwayne Harris and Travis Williams are back to handle kickoffs and punts, respectively. Harris averaged 27 yards and took three back for touchdowns. Williams averaged 12.6 yards, which would have been 18th nationally had he qualified with enough touches.

Watch Out For… Millisor. With the program searching for answers at kicker and punter, he could be the guy at both spots. He’s in a tight battle for both openings, but has the most long-term potential of all of the competitors.
Strength: The return game. Harris is one of the best all-around playmakers in Conference USA. Simmons provided a spark on punt returns. Together, they’ll give the Pirates a much-needed lift in field position.
Weakness: Uncertainty in the kicking game. A year ago, East Carolina had a first team all-conference punter and a second team all-conference kicker. Both are now gone, leaving a gaping void in the kicking game.
Outlook: East Carolina’s bout with special teams stability figures to be a brief one. The coverage units are average and the losses of Dodge and Hartman signal a return to 2008, when this was a hold-your-breath area. The silver lining is the return game, which harbors a couple of talented players in Harris and Simmons.
Rating: 6

- 2010 East Carolina Preview | 2010 East Carolina Offense
- 2010 East Carolina Defense | 2010 East Carolina Depth Chart
- East Carolina Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006