New NCAA regulations mean national signing date is coming up earlier and East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery anticipates some challenges with the change.
Recruits can sign during a three-day period from Dec. 20-22 this year. The traditional signing period will still run from Feb. 7 to April 1.
The difficulties that will accompany the earlier date, according to Montgomery, will actually have more of an impact on efforts with the next recruiting class, the one the Pirates can begin signing in December of 2018. That’s because of limits on head coaches’ recruiting during the offseason.
“It puts a lot of stress, not necessarily on the guys you have committed and the guys you’re recruiting, but it puts a lot of pressure on you for your next signing class, because that means the only time I’m going to have see any of the 2019 kids is during the December and January phase of it,” Montgomery said. “That will be the only chance I have to really spend any time with them or speak to people about them at their place. The head coaches are not allowed to go on the road in the spring.”
Montgomery said the stress of signing this December’s class has already passed.
“We’re going to have to take a guy for an official visit and bring him in based on going on the road one time,” Montgomery said. “It’s a lot of stress for the 2019 class.”
Incoming class features Ahlers
Montgomery talked in general terms about the next signing class, the one that will be coming aboard in December. NCAA rules prevent him from discussing recruits by name at this point.
“I wanted to get a cornerstone quarterback,” Montgomery said.
Presumably, the Pirates coach was talking about Holton Ahlers of nearby D.H. Conley. Montgomery did not travel with the ECU team last year the night before a 54-17 loss at Virginia Tech so that he could see Ahlers, the son of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium public address announcer Morgan Ahlers, when the Vikings played rival J.H. Rose, a 77-67 win for the Rampants.
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Ahlers has completed 101 of 166 passes this season with 25 touchdowns and one interception in a 5-1 start for Conley. Ahlers has run 44 times during his senior season for 306 yards with six TDs.
Cincinnati showed interest and Georgia made a push for Ahlers in the spring but his dad has said he feels Holton is intent on joining the ECU program.
Montgomery said it takes two years to recruit a cornerstone quarterback.
“It’s a guy like Thomas [Sirk] is becoming,” Montgomery said. “Somebody like Anthony Boone was at Duke. Someone who becomes the face of the program.”
Montgomery noted efforts to further stock the secondary and offensive line also will be evident when the fax machine in the football office gets letters of intent in December.
“It will be the best recruiting class that we’ve seen here,” Montgomery said.
Temple at hand
Of more immediate concern, Montgomery has been getting the Pirates (1-4, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) ready to host Temple (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday at noon.
The Owls have had a coaching transition with Geoff Collins taking over for Matt Rhule, now at Baylor.
Also gone is quarterback Phillip Walker, who was 3-0 against ECU.
Montgomery has been through the coaching transition process with a new quarterback, too.
“It’s really hard to come in and quickly get acclimated to all the guys and what they can do if they have a lot of graduation,” Montgomery said. “That’s one thing, they did have a lot of graduation, a lot of draft picks. They’ve put in new leaders and they’re doing a good job of it. You’re bringing in a new mindset, new coordinators on both sides of the ball.”
Montgomery said the Pirates are still in the transition process to a degree.
Temple is doing some new things offensively, generally using tight ends to a lesser degree and presenting more of a spread style.
Sirk improving NFL stock
Montgomery noted that seven NFL scouts made requests to attend practice on Wednesday. Sirk is among Pirates getting interest from pro talent evaluators.
Sirk completed 20 of 43 passes last week for 302 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, in a 61-31 loss to No. 18 South Florida (5-0, 2-0). ECU’s point total was a season-high for a Bulls opponent. Sirk also ran for 87 yards on 18 keepers with two scores.
Sirk connected on 30 of 39 throws for 426 yards and three TDs in a 41-38 win at Connecticut on Sept. 24.
Montgomery was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Duke in 2015 when Sirk led the Blue Devils to a win in the Pinstripe Bowl. As a former NFL assistant, Montgomery has an idea what the scouts see in the 6-feet, 4-inch Sirk.
“He’s on course to open a lot of eyes,” Montgomery said. “People are going to want to see a guy that comes out and competes with his arm and with his legs. They also like the fact that he’s throwing to what could be some National Football League receivers and able to hit them in stride. Their timing is starting to get there.
“But what he shows them is a tremendous amount of toughness. . . . He’s a good ball faker and has great hands. So there’s a lot that he’s showing right now.”
Wins also will impress the scouts.
“Now his biggest goal is just to try to win every single game he can win,” Montgomery said. “He is excited about this weekend. His teammates are excited. I think we’re getting a little confidence.”
Montgomery discussed practice focus this week.
“It’s really been about energy and how we use it on the field,” Montgomery said.
The Pirates had the ball for 32 minutes, 31 seconds but the time of possession didn’t show up on the scoreboard against USF.
“How are we going to use our energy to be more efficient?,” Montgomery said. “We’re just trying to make sure that in every snap that you’re out there your energy level is at 100 percent and you can go over it. There’s no place where you’re out there ever when you’re 94 percent, 95 percent.”
Irvin appears ready
Safety Tim Irvin has gotten reps in practice this week and looks poised to return from an ankle sprain.
Montgomery said Irvin was in about 40 percent of normal starting reps on Tuesday. Corner Corey Seargent was back in practice Wednesday.
“Hopefully, we’ll have [Seargent] as well,” Montgomery said.
Running back Devin Anderson also has been progressing.
“[Anderson] has had a great week of practice,” Montgomery said. “He stiff-armed somebody [Tuesday] in practice and knocked them completely off their feet. We’ve still got a lot of backs back there so he’s kind of working his way back into the mix of everything, but we do get him back.”
Montgomery has been pleased with the effort of true freshman running back Darius Pinnix. Another true freshman, Tank Robinson, is on track for more snaps in the ECU secondary.
Keys vs. Owls
The Pirates will be looking for their first AAC win against Temple.
“The first thing on offense is we’ve got to go out and make sure we execute inside our passing game,” Montgomery said. “We need to have our passing game on third down inside of 3rd-and-6. If we can stay in some 3rd-and-6s all the way down to 3rd-and-2s like we’ve done here of late, … we were 8 of 18 last week — I like to be right around 50 percent on third downs. If we can keep those manageable with our short-yardage running game, what we can do with Thomas and 27 (Pinnix) as a big back, I really think we can play a great football game.
“Our guys’ timing and energy is really starting to show, not only in games but in practice.”
Defensive takeaways have been among the challenges for a unit that is allowing 614.8 yards per game.
“We’ve got to take the football away from this team,” said the Pirates coach. “The teams that have played well against this team have had the ability to create some turnovers. We can’t drop picks. We’ve got to recover fumbles.
“We’ve got to clean up blunders on special teams and no penalties whatsoever.”
The Pirates had a self-block on a punt against USF as a boot from Austin Barnes caromed off a player in the punt shield. The situation gave the Bulls possession at the ECU 18-yard line and that led to a field goal for a 48-31 USF lead at the close of the third quarter.
“We had one guy a half-yard too deep in the shield in a game of inches and we’ve got to make sure we do that a little better,” Montgomery said.