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View from the 'ville
Thursday, February 3, 2011

By Al Myatt

Defensive help is on the way

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina football fans have had several things on their minds lately — the health of coach Ruffin McNeill, a possible slot in the Big East Conference and some recruiting solutions for a unit that was 120th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense.

The Pirates allowed their opponents 478.77 yards of offense per game last season. There were some monumental embarrassments along the way such as a 76-35 home loss to Navy, a 62-38 drubbing at lowly Rice and a 51-20 Military Bowl disaster against Maryland.

No cavalry came to ECU's rescue as its defense was getting shredded like Watergate documents in Washington, D.C. at the close of 2010.

The ECU staff didn't need a postseason memo to know that some immediate reinforcements were needed for the side of the ball that lost nine starters from the 2009 Conference USA championship team, including defensive end C.J. Wilson of the Green Bay Packers.

The talent level of the Pirate defense took more hits during the course of the 2010 season as injuries sidelined defensive tackle Michael Brooks and defensive ends Justin Dixon and Marke Powell.

On national signing day Wednesday, it was apparent that an effort had been made to bolster the defensive ranks.

Junior college guys aren't brought in unless they are thought capable of playing right away. The Pirates got signatures from a pair of juco defensive ends, including Leroy Vick (6-6, 275) from the Georgia Military program that has been a valuable ECU connection in the past, and John Lattimore from Ventura (CA) Community College who pursues quarterbacks like a heat-seeking missile. Linebacker Joseph "JoJo" Blanks is a Robeson County product, like McNeill, who refined his skills at ASA College in Brooklyn.

The Pirates signed six defensive ends, four linebackers, two defensive tackles and two defensive backs.

Redshirt isn't in anyone's vocabulary at this point so everyone, including true freshmen, will have the opportunity to help revive the defense that was struggling so terribly at times in 2010.

“Everybody we bring in here we expect to contend for a starting job and immediate playing time," McNeill said. "I’m not afraid of saying that. The team has been told that. Of course there are some positions that take more time to develop than others, offensive line being the main one.

“Providing competition will happen every year. It’s not because of last year or anything like that. I want there to be competition here. I think competition is key to having a successful program. Each day, week and play, you want to compete at a high level to maintain your position. We will create competition here at East Carolina on a yearly basis through recruiting and on a daily basis through work habits.”

In case ECU still has to outscore the opposition, the Pirates got two running backs with excellent credentials. Reggie Bullock was national offensive player of the year in the juco ranks at Arizona Western and Chevelle Buie is a four-star recruit who chose the Pirates over the likes of Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Michigan. Both are far from having move-the-pile type of size but they should function fine within the demands of the "Air Raid" passing game.

McNeill's biggest recruit this winter may have been new/old strength coach Jeff Connors. Add 10 to 15 pounds of muscle to everyone who faxed their national letters of intent to ECU on Wednesday and knock off a tenth of a second or two from their 40-yard time and the new blood becomes a much more formidable band of Pirates.

McNeill is progressing from his Bariatric surgery and the Big East apparently is impatient with Villanova dragging its feet on potential football membership.

Rivals rated ECU's recruiting class fifth among the 12 teams in Conference USA for what that's worth. I always wonder how many of the players are actually seen by the recruiting experts who rate them and if they would know what they were looking for if they did.

Every program has its own individual needs and ECU has done its best to address some sizeable talent voids on defense.

Recruiting is not an exact science. A lot of things can change for a high school football recruit in the ensuing four to five years of his life. Hopefully for those who just signed on to the Pirate ship, those changes will be for the better.

The citizens of the Pirate Nation will do their own evaluations soon enough as to how well the ECU coaching staff did its homework. A passing grade is contingent on significant improvement next season on defense.

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

02/03/2011 05:11 AM


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