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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, August 9, 2011

By Brian Bailey

Defensive optimism makes a comeback

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

Two key changes have the potential to transform East Carolina's defense into a more formidable force in 2011.

First, Jeff Connors' hand on the program will pay immediate dividends.

One player told me on media day that Connors was his 'best friend’. Another told me that he looked forward to each and every workout. I thought they were kidding. But both players said they know that if they can survive the workouts, they’ll be that much bigger, stronger and faster. They say Connors is tough, but that they know he’s ultimately in their corner.

Connors told me to start the summer that he was a little concerned with some of his defensive linemen. Without naming names, he said a couple were really out of shape and he questioned their work ethics.

Last week he smiled when I asked about those defensive linemen. All he told me this time is that they had worked really hard, and that they had done well.

Justin Dixon was certainly singing Connors' praises.

“He’s got my knee feeling like a brand new knee,” said Dixon, whose injury was part of a series of defensive injuries that ripped the squad apart last season. “The sand pits and stadium runs really helped. He’s really helped my knee out.”

Dixon added that he’s not the only player benefitting from Connors' return.

“We all look good,” Dixon said. “We are definitely stronger on the defensive side. The defense looks good. This defense can be real good if we’ll just listen to the coaches.”

Defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell is also certainly in Connors' corner.

“We are stronger, quicker and faster on defense,” said Mitchell. “Our kids fought through a grueling, summer workout campaign with Coach Connors and came out smelling like roses. I am giddy as we start camp. The kids are so excited to get started and they can’t wait until we get back to playing good defense at East Carolina.”

The switch to the 3-4 will also prove to be beneficial.

Defensive linemen are some of the hardest athletes to recruit. A really good defensive lineman can usually write his own ticket.

The Pirate coaches feel they have more “linebacker types” in house and that they have access to recruit even more.

Head Coach Ruffin McNeill has spent most of his career working with the 3-4. It was an easy sell to Mitchell.

“It gives us more unpredictability,” said Mitchell. “It gives us an opportunity to get more guys out on the field that can make plays in space. It gives us another athletic player on the field. I think it’s going to fit our personnel very well.”

The coaches can coach but it’s the players that have to take responsibility and ownership into what goes on with the defense. Dixon is thrilled to be back, and says the squad certainly has developed a bit of a nasty disposition.

“Got to play with a little chip on your shoulder and we certainly have something to prove,” Dixon added. “That’s the kind of attitude we’ve got to have, to think back to last year. We have something to prove. We have to practice just like it’s a game. We have to take the ball away, force fumbles and stop people."

Mitchell says this team will turn things around and the improvement will show from game one.

“I’m very confident that the way we are putting in the scheme ... that we are fundamentally getting better every day,” said Mitchell. “We did that this spring and I think that will continue in camp. We’ll be ready when we open the season.”

They’ll have to be ready, facing one of East Carolina's toughest challenges on the 2011 slate against South Carolina in Charlotte.


E-mail Brian Bailey.

Brian Bailey Archives

08/09/2011 03:04 AM


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