What’s the quickest way to see a spark in the eye of a defensive player during preseason workouts?
Tell him to go put on his pads.
The East Carolina defensive unit has had plenty of pep in its step for the past two days in practice, due primarily to the introduction of contact during drills. But linebacker Jordan Williams isn’t sure that his teammates on the other side of the line share his excitement about strapping on full pads and hitting.
“When we pop on the pads, the defensive guys are amped up and stuff, you know, the offensive guys, they look a little scared,” said Williams, a senior inside linebacker from Fayetteville. “We love it.”
Williams has distinguished himself in Coach Jeff Connors’ grueling strength and conditioning program, setting a record among all ECU linebackers with a 374-pound power clean and also topping all other Pirates in Connors’ comprehensive “power quotient” formula. He also led all tacklers last season with 77 total stops.
But past accolades and weight room triumphs are only as good as they translate into effectiveness on the field this season, Williams said, and so far he likes what he sees unfolding around him.
“A lot of guys have improved on physicality,” he said, “I say that because they know what to do so they can just go at it and go 100 percent. Last year we were kind of undersized at the linebacker spot, and I think guys are getting bigger, so we can stop those runs.”
New faces like safeties Korrin Wiggins and Tim Irvin and defensive end Gaelin Elmore – transfers from Clemson, Auburn and Minnesota, respectively – have added a spark to the defense and provided new tools for frustrating opposing offenses. Williams said that they have made an easy transition into ECU’s scheme.
“We’ve got the guys in the right spots, and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, 100 percent,” he said. “So it looks pretty good out there.”
Head coach Scottie Montgomery praised the defensive performance in Wednesday’s practice, making special mention of the blocking on the front line and the versatility in the secondary. But he said that the depth chart reflects a leanness at linebacker and the defensive coaches are continuing to tune up the fine points of the pass rushing game.
“Defensively we’ve got to match our run fits a little better with our pass rushing,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got a long way to go, there’s no doubt about it, but with all the added talent and added competition, it’s making us a better program.”
A highlight for Montgomery in Wednesday’s workout was the performance of Irvin, who is shaping up as the defensive “eraser” for the Pirates. Irvin’s role in the secondary is to clean up any mistakes or missed assignments that might be happening around him, Montgomery said, and Irvin demonstrated his effectiveness in that post when a linebacker missed a corner route and Irvin sprinted up to cover the receiver.
“He gives us the ability to erase some of the issues that we may have had before, and then in the run game, he’s such a force because when he comes down in there he’s bringing everything he has every time,” Montgomery said. “Because of that, we can put him aggressively in the run fits, but in the middle of the field he erases a lot of our issues. If a guy gets beat, he’s coming over the top.”
Irvin, who sat out last year to fulfill NCAA transfer requirements, is as relieved as Williams to be practicing in full pads and he has been impressed by the aggressiveness he sees on the practice field. The defensive players have been bonding on and off the field, Irvin said, and it shows – especially since they moved to full speed and full pads.
“We’re always intense,” he said. “When we come out here we always attack each other, and then we go into the locker room and talk about it. I’m a guy that always likes to attack , so I love putting on pads. Every time coach tells us to put on pads I’m so excited.”