Each in his own way, both Kendall Futrell and Chance Purvis were somewhat constrained prior to this preseason — Futrell because he spent much of the 2017 season limited by injury and illness, and Purvis because he’s a self-professed “late bloomer.”
But with a new coordinator and a new defensive scheme designed to capitalize on their speed off of the ends, the two defensive linemen have effectively been set free to run.
Futrell, who was named to the third-team Preseason All-American Athletic Conference squad by Phil Steele’s College Football Preview Magazine, said that he feels like it is the time for him — and his defensive teammates — to shine. And the more time he spends in the revamped scheme, the more convinced Futrell becomes that it is a perfect fit for his skill set.
“Kendall’s a guy that, number one, he really fits what we do,” defensive coordinator David Blackwell said. “Our scheme and him are a great marriage. He’s an explosive guy, he’s really fast, he can play on edges. We play our ends more like outside linebackers, so the way he plays in our scheme it really benefits him. It’s been a win-win for him, I think, and for us.”
“It feels really good, because I worked really hard in this offseason and I feel like now is my season to put it all together,” said Futrell, a junior from nearby South Central High School who is projected to start at the “bandit” end spot in Blackwell’s plan. “It’s different than last year, because I get to use space. I was really close to the lineman last year, now this year I get to widen out a little bit and use my speed as a weapon, which I feel like is my best weapon.
“I just get to drop in coverage and do a whole lot of different stuff that I feel I really wasn’t able to do last year.”
While Wednesday’s workout was a little sluggish in the early periods, Blackwell said that he has been pleased with the intensity and parity of competition between the offensive and defensive units.
“We haven’t had a day yet in the summer when offense has dominated the defense or defense has just dominated the offense,” he said. “We punch, and they counter punch.”
Purvis could become one of the best stories on ECU’s defense this season. After being redshirted as a freshman and logging duty on the scout team as a sophomore, a strong spring camp positioned Purvis as an expected starter at defensive end opposite Futrell.
A native of Meridian, Mississippi, Purvis shares his teammate’s enthusiasm about the creativity the defensive scheme allows, especially the increased emphasis on the blitz.
“I’m enjoying the coordinator,” Purvis said. “Coach Blackwell? He’s a great guy. Our scheme is amazing, everything’s amazing. I’m just looking forward to it.”
It’s a unit dominated by youth, but early preseason looks have also convinced Blackwell and head coach Scottie Montgomery that the defensive line has an above-average helping of talent as well.
“We’re faster in our front,” Montgomery said. “We’re really fast at end. We’ve done some things and adjusted some people and positions to make us really, really fast at end. I don’t give much sugar to young people, but I think our young defensive ends are probably as talented a group that we’ve recruited.”
Even as Blackwell evaluates skills with a sense of immediacy, he said that Montgomery has helped him see the tremendous upside in many of the freshmen lineman, some of whom could certainly see playing time this season. Freshman Dorian Hardy reportedly fielded more than 25 recruiting offers, including a number of Power Five programs, and his classmates D’Angelo McKinnie and Damir Faison are other newcomers who came in with impressive credentials.
The players’ optimism and their belief in the 2018 defense are founded in the talent and motivation that they are seeing around them every day on the practice field.
“We’re more aggressive on defense, we’re not just sitting back letting teams score on us,” Futrell said. “We’re going to rush off the edge, we’re going to blitz and we’re going to do multiple things. We’re not going to be one-dimensional.”