East Carolina ranked 129th and last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2017 in total defense, allowing 541.7 yards per game, and scoring defense, yielding 45.0 points per contest.
Coach Scottie Montgomery addressed factors that led to those deficiencies by hiring ECU alumnus David Blackwell as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Blackwell was involved in bringing in defensive line coach Rodrique Wright and new safeties coach Daric Riley.
Montgomery expressed confidence in the potential of the defensive unit to manifest improvement in 2018.
“We wanted a coordinator that fit our kids,” Montgomery said. “Knowing the people that we have in the building, his scheme fits our kids really, really well.
“It was probably the most difficult spring from an offensive standpoint that they’ve had to go through. We play great base defense now. … We’ve learned how to generate pressure without always doing it with people from the second level and third level.
“Very pleased with where we are coming out of spring. Looking forward to playing really, really good football this fall. The kids that are in the building now are kids that we recruited. The only coaches they’ve played for is this staff. We’re really, really excited about moving forward.”
The upcoming season could be pivotal for Montgomery after a pair of 3-9 years. Defensive improvement could be instrumental as to whether the former Duke player and coordinator continues as ECU’s coach.
With the resignation of Jeff Compher from the athletic director’s position, Montgomery’s primary advocate is no longer in place.
Graduate transfers dwindle
The Pirates invested significantly in graduate transfers prior to the 2017 season as quarterback Thomas Sirk from Duke, running back Tyshon Dye from Clemson, defensive back Korrin Wiggins from Clemson, defensive lineman Gaelin Elmore from Minnesota and punter Austin Barnes from Eastern Michigan came to ECU.
Sirk started wins over Connecticut and Brigham Young. Wiggins led ECU in tackles with 96 and Barnes averaged 44.0 yards per punt before he was dismissed from the team prior to the last game.
The Pirates have not pursued graduate transfers to the same degree going into the upcoming season, a factor attributable perhaps to sustained recruiting efforts during Montgomery’s tenure that have led to increased levels of talent and depth.
It appeared as though the Pirates might seek some immediate depth at quarterback or punter through graduate transfers but there may be sufficient personnel on hand to take care of those potential needs.
Redshirt freshman Caiden Norman completed his only pass for five yards in the spring game and likely will be the fourth quarterback Montgomery wanted on the roster.
Redshirt sophomore Reid Herring, true freshman Holton Ahlers and redshirt freshman Kingsley Ifedi will compete for the starting assignment at quarterback in preseason camp.
Aggies were unbeaten
For the second straight year, ECU will open its season against an impressive Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
North Carolina A&T will be coming off an unbeaten season when it matches up against the Pirates in Greenville on Sept. 1.
Last year, 2016 FCS champion James Madison dealt ECU a 34-14 loss at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to open the season.
Former Pirates assistant Rod Broadway stepped down as Aggies coach after the storybook season in 2017 and defensive coordinator Sam Washington was promoted to head coach.