Going into his first season as East Carolina’s head football coach, Scottie Montgomery has gained some perspective on what the Pirates have accomplished since opening preseason training camp Aug. 4.
“We think that we’ve put together a pretty good football team,” Montgomery said. “We know that we’ve developed and know that we have some playmakers, whether it be on offense or on defense. Our leadership has been great. They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do. I think that we have a better level of discipline and we know that our conditioning is better than it was in January, when we started. Just like any team, that’s going to be your lowest time in conditioning.
“You like to work to be game ready right around this time. I don’t know that we’re completely midseason game ready but we are in fact physically, from a conditioning standpoint, game ready.”
ECU hosts Western Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 3, at 6 p.m., to start the 2016 season.
The Pirates were 5-7 last year and 3-5 in the American Athletic Conference. ECU finished fifth in the AAC East Division and that’s where the league’s preseason poll, released Aug. 2, has the Pirates slotted this season.
Break on the weather
There have been some very demanding days in terms of temperature and humidity since preseason camp got started.
This weather has relented to a degree this week.
“Our guys have loved it,” Montgomery said. “They’ve had a lot of energy and juice because of it being about 10 degrees cooler. It’s made an apparent difference in practice. At the end of practice, they still want to go more. That’s because we were blessed with some tough weather early.”
Day off the same, no movie nights
Monday will continue to be a day off on traditional game weeks for ECU players. The Pirates play on the first six Saturdays of the season before a home game with Navy on Thursday night, Oct. 13.
“Our day off we’ll be on Monday,” Montgomery said. “We will come in on Sunday and get it all cleaned up. We’ll work a little bit on Sunday evening. Monday will be a big-time game plan day for the coaches and it will be the true off day for the players.”
Former ECU coach Ruffin McNeill was a movie buff and the Pirates went to a theater as a team the night before a game to take in a recent release.
That’s not in the plans under Coach Mo.
“No,” Montgomery said. “We don’t do that. Our process is our process. We’ll get in (the hotel). We’ll have a voluntary devotional that night. We’ll have some meetings but we like the guys to be able to be off their feet. They can go back to their rooms during some of that time. Some people go watch movies. We let them do it in their room. We’ll get to our meeting and then we’ll let them go back and go to sleep. We don’t like a lot of movement and a lot of ins and outs. We like to really get in our routine and stay in our routine.”
It’s already game week
Montgomery said it became game week when the Pirates returned to practice after a scrimmage Saturday at Rocky River High School in Charlotte.
“It started last Tuesday, “Montgomery said. “We started our game week. We were in a normal routine week this week as if we would play on Saturday. … We’ve gone through the whole routine of game weeks so our guys kind of have a feeling right now that we are playing in a few days.”
Two different scrimmages
The offense produced 745 yards in the first scrimmage at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Aug. 13. That included 576 yards passing and six touchdowns through the air. The offense averaged 8.9 yards per play for 34 rushes and 50 passes.
The defense was much more effective in a scrimmage of about 50 snaps in the Queen City.
There was a significant disparity between the two units in the two intrasquad matchups.
“The first scrimmage was a scrimmage where we came out and we did a lot, whether it be offense or defense, the kids had a lot to grasp,” Montgomery said. “The offense was dynamic in that game. We had some receivers make some unheard-of type catches and our DBs were there and close. Then we had some runs. We made some big-time plays. Defensively, we did a lot of things good in the first scrimmage. It’s just hard to stop a couple of Ferraris that they had outside on offense but defensively, I thought we did some good things.”
The Pirates were more conservative in terms of calls last Saturday because the session was open to the public.
“The second scrimmage, we were a lot more basic with real football,” Montgomery said. “It wasn’t that we restricted everything from an offensive standpoint or from a defensive standpoint but I restricted both sides because I didn’t want anything to get out there. The difference is our defense had to hear about how good our offense had played the previous scrinmmage. They came out and they were on fire. I could see it getting off the bus. They were completely focused. Both groups were.
“We put the offense in some hard situations. I put them back down there on the goal line. We had a lot of situations where they were coming out, minus-25 or minus-5 (yard lines). The defense should get off the field in that situation and that’s what they did. But they tackled as well as anytime they’ve tackled down there in Charlotte that I’ve seen. Then when we got down there into the red zone from an offensive standpoint — when you’ve got things going for you is when I would have liked to have seen our defense play better and our offense played better during that time. There was some disparity on it from one scrimmage to the next but I think now we’re competing at a really, really high level offensively and defensively. We’ve got a few tools on defense that people don’t know about.
“We have to find out if they can put it together like they’ve put it together in practice. We’ll find out how good we can be both defensively and offensively and our special teams because we’re playing people. That’s what we believe in. We’re going to put guys out there to play significant snaps for us. We’re going to try to put our best foot forward there as well.”
Minshew in back-up role
After losing a potential starter at quarterback to transfer after spring ball, the Pirates signed Gardner Minshew, who directed Northwest Mississippi Community College to the National Junior College Athletic Association championship as a freshman.
Although Minshew will be the back up to Philip Nelson, ECU would like to redshirt Minshew.
“I’ve got to give him a little bit of love,” Montgomery said of the juco transfer. “He was fantastic this preseason camp. He had a great camp, as well as Phil. … If Phil can continue to play the way he’s playing, he’s going to be very successful this year. We feel comfortable with Phil but right after him, it’ll be Gardner. If anything were to happen whatsoever, we’ve made plans because (Minshew) has done really well. He has a great grasp of the offense. We feel very comfortable right now with where he is.”
Running back mix
The Pirates have expressed an intention to establish a more effective ground game after rushing for an average of 133.3 yards last season, ninth in the 12-team AAC. Anthony Scott averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season, just behind James Summers at 4.6 yards among returning players.
“I think you start with, probably right now, Anthony Scott,” Montgomery said. “Devin Anderson. Those will be the guys getting a lot of carries. Right after that, you’re looking at Derrell Scott and Shawn Furlow. We’ll find out how it all works out. … We just want to make sure that when we have a back in there, he’s ready to go. He’s 100 percent from an energy standpoint. It’s been a competition. All of those guys have had big runs in this camp. We’re looking forward to seeing how they perform.”
No scrimmage is planned this Saturday.
“No, we will not,” Montgomery said. “We’ve had two big-time scrimmages, two other live-type situations. We won’t go out and tackle to the ground again until we go out there on Saturday, Sept. 3.”
In the meantime, the Pirates will put the finishing touches on preparations.
“Details,” Montgomery said. “But at the same time, keeping a physical nature about us. We’re trying to get their legs back as much as we can. At the same time, we want to keep it as vibrant and as physical as we can. We’ve got to concentrate on the details. Our communication over the next four to five days has got to continue to improve.
“We also have to get better at silent communication. We have to have body language offensively and defensively to know each other as a team. A great team can do that. We’re working on that on a daily basis. At the end of the day, that’s the things that we need to continue to work on. We have to make sure that in the details is where you have penalty-discipline.
“The first two or three games a year, if you go back and look, most teams have a lot of penalties, so what we’re trying to do is we’re putting them in situations with officials and we’re calling it real. We’re not giving them any breaks on anything. We’re making them feel the pressure of going out and trying to execute the first couple of weeks of the season from a penalty-discipline standpoint.”
Recruiting gets thumbs-up
Montgomery can’t comment on recruits by name for the 2017 signing class, but in general terms he’s pleased with a group that includes 15 known commitments.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “We’ve got a few more people that we’re right here in the middle of right now. It’s going to come out here shortly. I can’t say very much but we got some things that we knew that we needed.
“We wanted to add some power at the playmaking. Then we wanted to add some defensive toughness and just continue to grow because some of the guys that we have playing now, of course, will be leaving soon. We’re really happy but we still have a little while to go.
“It’s been great to get out on the road for our coaches. We’re in battles that we’re not afraid to be in. We’re going to be in battles with the SEC and the ACC. From a recruiting standpoint, we’ve got to make sure when they get here, they see our culture and our coaches coach them as hard as they possibly can when they have a chance to coach them in these camps and stuff. That’s the way you build relationships and you continue this thing, going ahead.”
Big 12 expansion
If the Big 12 adds teams, Montgomery feels like the Pirates are worthy.
“In the chair that I sit on, off course, I have to kind of keep my eye on a million things at once but I think that’s something that we deserve,” said the ECU coach. “It’s not something that’s a wish. I think it’s something that this university deserves. I think our football program deserves it.
“I think at the end of the day if you want to add something of value to your conference and you look at what we have here then you know that we would definitely add a ton of value. We’re happy to be in the conversation but I think this is what our people deserve.”
Sense of anticipation
Montgomery will experience a first game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium from the ECU point of view in the near future and he can hardly wait.
“I’m so excited to see and feel the energy that that place is going to provide,” Montgomery said. “I think about it every second almost now. It’s one of those situations where I’m doing something and I can just feel energy coming from the stands. We don’t get to play for a few more days but I am looking forward to it.
“It’s just a feeling on the inside that I know I can not imagine and I’m looking forward to seeing that there’s a way that I can just feel that feeling and keep that feeling with me for the rest of my life because I know that it’s going to be a great one.”