East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery has completed his evaluations involving spring football and shared some thoughts. Some staff changes, a new scheme and developing personnel provide anticipation for much-needed improvement on defense.
“I’ll start with the defensive side of the ball because I think that’s where we made the most gains,” Montgomery said Wednesday. “David Blackwell (defensive coordinator) has come in and given us a scheme I think our kids were able to grab a hold of and not just learn, but start to dominate in it.
“Having him coach the middle linebacker position has really been beneficial to two of our more talented players on our team, Aaron Ramseur and Bruce Bivens. Because of that communication from the coordinator to the linebacker position — our linebacker is, of course, our quarterback on defense — it helped everything.
“Bringing in Daric Riley and just letting him coach our safeties and splitting Brandon Lynch over to just the corners had given us a better understanding of what we’re doing in the back end. We’re very thankful for the way that we’ve been able to split up our staff now with a 10th coach and bringing in Kirk Doll (special teams coordinator). He’s also helping us on defense as well in certain situations, like a defensive analyst at times.
“We’ve really increased our coaching on that side, but we’ve gotten better defensively because of guys who have been redshirted who are now playing. We haven’t had to deal with losing players. It’s been really, really good to watch what they did in spring from beginning to end. I think defensively we made our biggest strides.
“I like what we’re doing in our front. I like that we have what we like to call a base defense and that we understand that base defense against everything that someone can play against us.
“We’ve worked very hard and are continuing to work now with our captains’ practices and other things to make sure that our scheme is much better than it was last year. We’re also playing with a lot more talent and a lot older talent and a better buy-in. It’s been really, really good to see Coach Blackwell and his staff and kids come together and play at the level they’ve played at.”
The Pirates will be inexperienced at quarterback. Reid Herring is the only passer who has thrown in a college game. His only toss was a touchdown to Trevon Brown.
Inexperience doesn’t mean there isn’t talent among the QBs.
“Offensively, what I’ve been most impressed about is our quarterback play,” Montgomery said. “Reid Herring has really played lights out throughout spring ball, I think because he was pressed the whole time by Holton Ahlers and Kingsley Ifedi. Holton came in as prepared to play as anybody. There’s still a lot that he has to learn and we’re going to let him do that. Kingsley had a great understanding of what we’ve done. He’s been in this system now for a couple of years, so he’s much better in his understanding.
“We’re really talented at wide receiver. We haven’t played with all of them. Trevon Brown is probably one of the best guys I’ve seen, period, whether it was in the NFL or college, that I’ve coached in framing the football, meaning putting his body in a position to catch it. His rapport with Reid right now is really, really, really good.
“Also, Deondre Farrier had a really productive spring. I really like what he did without the football in his hands. He’s really bought in to blocking on the perimeter. Keith Gaither (wide receivers coach) has done a great job with those guys and making them understand the importance of blocking on the perimeter.
“We’re really coming together as a football team and talking about the things that they can control now. We’re able to coach more scheme. These guys have really bought in.
“In our backfield, I was really, really pleased with Anthony Scott . I know that Anthony Scott had a great spring from top to bottom. He is working really hard to be back on this football team. He’s done everything he’s supposed to do. It looks like if he continues to work hard, he’ll be trending back toward being on this team and being able to be eligible this fall. Hussein Howe also had a great spring.
“Darius Pinnix had a little bit of an injury so we didn’t get to see him the latter part of the spring, but he opened really well. The guy that we were really pleased with was Trace Christian. He was hurt the early part of spring, came back the second part of the spring. He gives us a real ability to run the zone. He does a really good job of being patient in running the football. He did a good job in the spring game for us.”
Christian scored the deciding touchdown in the spring game.
Keyshawn Canady has made the conversion from defensive back to running back for his sophomore season.
“We have some speed over there with Keyshawn Canady,” Montgomery said. “He’s one of the fastest guys we have on the team. We’ve kind of loaded that position, which we feel really, really good about.”
The all-important pit crew is older and more experienced with a new coach (Don Mahoney) going into Montgomery’s third season at ECU.
“The offensive line, it all kind of starts with John Spellacy at the center position,” Montgomery said. “He’s not a freshman anymore. He’s a sophomore. He’s picked up some weight. He’s gotten stronger. He understands the offense. He’s making all the calls. He made them last year but now he’s making them with a lot more confidence. To his left, Cortez Herrin, at guard, has been awesome in his offseason workouts. He’s done really well. He was our most productive player in the spring overall, offensively, so we gave him the MVP of the spring.
“At left tackle, we get D’Ante Smith back. At right guard right now we have a battle going on. Sean Bailey has done a good job for us. He came in and redshirted and did everything we asked him to do. In his third year, he’s more prepared to play. Also, we have (Dqmarcus) Shaw battling at that position. At right tackle, we feel really good with Garrett McGhin, probably our most talented athlete in the offensive front. He’s done a good job there.
“We’ve started to add some depth there also behind some of those guys that you’ll hear more about as we move forward.
“We’re going to use the role of tight end a little different … throughout the fall. Anthony Watley has come on a lot. We look forward to seeing him develop throughout the season. We know at the beginning of the season he will have some growing to do but we think he will continue to develop as we get going.
“We’re also planning to use some special packages to get multiple backs on the field. We’re excited about where we are offensively and defensively.”
Special teams analysis
Special teams has become Doll’s domain with his return to the ECU staff.
“We’re excited about the direction of our special teams with Kirk Doll,” Montgomery said. “We’ve grown a lot in special teams, but we’d like to see our specialists kick it a little bit better.
“We’re still in the process of maybe bringing in another punter to help with that situation overall. I thought that Caleb Pratt had a little bit better spring than Jake Verity. We look forward to seeing that battle go on into the fall. We’ll let them battle it out. No one has been given the job. I think Kirk Doll has done a good job of making sure they understand they have to compete.”
Is ECU looking for a graduate transfer punter?
“Not necessarily a graduate transfer, but a transfer with maybe immediate eligibility,” Montgomery said.