NEWS, NOTES &
Friday, December 22, 2006
By Bethany Bradsher
Veteran defensive backs primed
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The East Carolina secondary unit will have some
things working in its favor at Legion Field on Saturday: four mature senior
starters, an excellent track record during the regular season and one of the
most seasoned position coaches in the country.
As they hold down the backfield against South
Florida, the Pirates will need to use each one of those tools to combat Matt
Grothe, the freshman jack-of-all-trades quarterback who leads the Bulls in
rushing with 607 yards and passing with 2,495 yards.
Grothe has carried the ball 171 times this
season, ECU secondary coach Rick Smith said, making him the team’s most
prolific tailback as well as its quarterback. But the area of greatest
concern for Smith comes from the skyscrapers who are the Bulls’ wide
“Their receivers are extremely tall,” said
Smith, who has been coaching at the college level for 23 years at schools
like Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Cincinnati. “Travis Williams is 5-10, he’ll
be playing against a guy that’s 6-3. The three starting receivers are 6-3,
"Their receivers are
taller than their tight ends.”
With so many offensive
weapons — a quarterback who can move the ball by air or ground and receivers
who tower above some of their defenders — the ECU unit will still approach
the matchup with confidence because of Grothe’s youth, their experience and
the difficult atmosphere the Pirate defense can create for opposing
“We talk a lot out
there,” said junior cornerback Travis Williams. “I think we can get into his
head a little bit, just talking trash to him, just hitting him every play.”
Smith has so much
confidence in the secondary that he has allowed his three senior safeties —
Pierre Parker, Kyle Chase and Jamar Flournoy — to rotate themselves in and
out during a game.
The trio has done such a
good job with that responsibility that they each has around 500 plays under
his belt in the regular season, Smith said.
“You shake them up,
they’re just good players,” Smith said. “I’ve enjoyed them. They like each
other. And they understand their role, and their role is no long runs and no
One of Smith’s
philosophies is that a defense should do everything possible to limit its
opponents’ runs to under 10 yards per carry and passes to under 25 yards per
reception. When Grothe — who has 25 touchdowns on his own this year — looks
for the explosion play, Smith’s protégés have been coached to plug up every
hole to keep that explosion from happening.
With a scrambling
quarterback like Grothe, cornerback Kasey Ross said, the challenge is in
staying with your man through the end of the play, because there’s always a
chance that a receiver can break away and connect with a quarterback who is
operating on the run.
“The big thing with him
is, you’ve got to stay on your man and get pressure up front to get him on
the ground,” said Ross, who has been on the field the most in the Pirate
secondary this season, with nearly 800 plays.
Flournoy, an Alabama
native who expects to have a cheering section of about 60 at Saturday’s
game, said that he and the other seniors plan to enjoy the bowl experience,
but also to take their role as leaders seriously. Unlike the younger players
who can just go down and enjoy the events surrounding the game, Flournoy
knows that he needs to help set the stage for a victory.
To prove his suitability
for that motivator role, Flournoy started by addressing the media reports
about Grothe and his offensive fireworks. This Pirates defense, he said, is
ready for anything South Florida might dish out.
“We’ve heard a lot of
things about them, but it’s nothing spectacular that we can’t handle,” he
said. “There’s nothing they’ve got that we haven’t seen all year.”
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