East Carolina defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson has had some family time this summer. Now he’s fully focused on football as preseason practice starts next week.
“The highlight was being able to step back and do some fishing,” Thompson said. “I got a chance to go fishing with my boys. We’ve kind of developed a tradition of going on a fishing trip somewhere every year. Last year, we went down to the Outer Banks to do some fishing. This year, I went back home and went fishing off of Galveston (TX), not too far from Houston. That was a good deal and I had a great time doing that with them.”
Thompson’s sons are 11 and 13. They live in Nashville (TN) and are already practicing football.
“They get started a little bit earlier in Tennessee,” Thompson said.
New position focus
Thompson coached outside linebackers last year. With ECU going to a 4-2-5 base defense, the outside linebackers have been eliminated, at least in theory.
“I spend quite a bit of my time working with that hybrid position, which we call the Pirate,” Thompson said. “Because that position is hybrid, it works a lot with the secondary and the linebackers. It allows me to work between those rooms at that position and be able to touch those positions, whether they be the linebackers or whether they be the defensive backs, more than I have in the past.”
The Pirate may line up as a defensive back or a linebacker.
“He’s what everybody used to consider that nickel — a big DB, a guy that has the ability to play in space and is also able to play in the box,” Thompson said. “Because of that, he’s got to have a special skill set — be big enough to do those things inside the box but also be athletic enough to change directions and cover. He’s a hybrid DB/linebacker body type.”
The group working at the newly-developed Pirate position includes redshirt freshman Aaron Ramseur, senior Trevian Hicks and true freshman Delvontae Harris.
“Those are guys that we identify with that kind of body type,” Thompson said. “A couple of our safeties like Tim Irvin will be able to also work at that position to be able to give us some depth. Any of our safeties will be trained at being able to play that position to give us some depth, especially those strong safeties. . . . Kind of how we built this was with guys who were maybe a lighter linebacker kind of naturally fits that position and a guy who has some size at safety would be a candidate to be able to play that position.”
Addition of Irvin
Irvin, a sophomore transfer from Auburn, is the nephew of Michael Irvin, an NFL hall of famer. He was in on 18 tackles, including eight solo stops, in 10 games with the Tigers.
“He brings explosiveness,” Thompson said. “Great change of direction. An explosive athlete, not just as a defensive back but also in the return game. . . . His mindset, which is one of his assets, is about how aggressive and physical he is as a player. His approach to the game is just as important as some of the things he can do physically. Having that element to add to the defensive back room, we felt like would help us get to that next step.
“He’s played quite a bit of football at a high level and because of his work ethic, his confidence is high. We expect quite a bit from him.”
The Pirates had two positions to fill on the defensive staff after going 3-9 in 2016 and 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference.
“We were lucky to be able to add to our defensive staff the kind of quality of coaches of Coach [Robert] Prunty (defensive line) and Coach [Brandon] Lynch (secondary). Coach Prunty, of course, a lot of experience in general, but definitely in this league coming from Cincinnati. A lot of experience in general as far as recruiting and knowing what type of player we’re looking for in order to be successful and being able to manage a room. He’s one of the best in the country to be able to get the most out of the players that he has.”
Prunty also serves as associate head coach.
“To be able to add those kind of guys to the room has enhanced what we feel like we’ll be able to get out of the players,” Thompson said. “As important, he’s just a great human being that the players respect and look up to on and off the field. He’s done an outstanding job as far as building relationships, not only with the people in his room but players across the team. Being an experienced coach, he understands how important that is to have the right type of relationship with the players off the field in order to get the most you can from them on the field.
“Coach Lynch, a defensive back coach coming in, a youthful coach but a great technician. He felt it was important to establish a relationship with these guys. He’s a guy that played the position at a high level, a former NFL player that played under Coach [Tony] Dungy. He brings a lot of those attributes to his style of coaching. We felt like it was a great fit. Coach Mo (Scottie Montgomery) went out and, with my help, identified what we felt like we needed for our guys to get the most out of them.
“We were lucky to get those guys on staff.”
The defensive staff has had some lengthy meetings this week.
“The biggest thing for us is to make sure that we have transparency and consistency,” Thompson said. “We want to make sure that we’re clear and concise on everything we’re asking these guys to do and making sure that we’re consistent with that so we can develop the kind of trust that is going to be needed from coach to coach, player to coach and coach to player in order for everybody to reach their full potential.
“We started off and we didn’t talk about any football. We made sure that we were on the same page as a staff, philosophy-wise, how we felt like we could get the most out of these guys, to make sure that we had the right relationships that we needed with guys, to get our mindset together so when it was time to actually get to the physical part of it, we can demand as much as we possibly can from these guys but never having these guys doubt that we care about them and we want them to be successful on and off the field. We spent a lot of time doing that.
“Then we got into the playbook to make sure that every I was dotted and every T was crossed to make sure the verbiage was right so we can eliminate gray area so we can hold each other accountable, make sure we hold the players accountable so we make sure we’re doing everything we can to be successful. A lot of it has been making sure that we’re all on the same page and then leaving no stone unturned so when it’s time to get going, we can make sure everybody is going in the same direction.”
Began coaching in Italy
Thompson’s coaching career got started in Florence, Italy, in 1990.
“I was studying business and I wanted to travel abroad and continue to study. I got an opportunity to find a team that had a tryout there. I got a chance to go over and play but at the same time, because I knew American football, I ended up coaching just as much as I played, which was a unique thing. I was still actually playing at the time. I was a player-coach. I played linebacker and helped install the defense and helped make corrections or what not, whether it be in the meeting rooms or on the field.
“I thought it was a great experience because on top of that I got to live in Italy. It was amazing and it kind of got my fire lit for wanting to coach. … Twenty-plus years later, I wouldn’t do anything else.”
Thompson couldn’t speak the language when he arrived in Italy.
“I learned how to speak it by taking class and being immersed in it,” Thompson said. “I actually became pretty good as far as what I could actually understand. My Italian was a little broken but I was able to communicate. With languages, the less you use it, you lose it. Over the years, as time has gone by, I hear certain things and it comes back to me. I can recognize things. While I was there, I learned to be adequate enough to be able to communicate.”
Friday (Part One): Interview with ECU Defensive Coordinator Kenwick Thompson
Saturday (Part Two): Interview with ECU Defensive Coordinator Kenwick Thompson