Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather





Put your ad message in front of 1,000's and 1,000's of Pirate fans. Call 252.637.2944 for flexible options & rates.





Spring Football Preview: Part Three
Monday, March 21, 2011
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Features Writer

Editor's note: This article focuses on "Defense." It is Part Three in Ron Cherubini's "Way-Too-Early" series that looks at the possibilities for East Carolina's 2011 football season. Other articles in the series are linked below.

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Offense

Part Three: Defense

Who will step up to restore D's rep?

Part Three: Bonesville's Way-Too-Early Football Preview

By Ron Cherubini
All rights reserved.

Dead Last: The 2010 East Carolina defense was the worst in all of college football. Young guns, like safety Damon Magazu (pictured above after game-winning INT against N.C. State), will have to step up quickly to address the unit's deficiencies.

(ECU Media Relations image)

By Ron Cherubini
All rights reserved


And like that… it was gone.

In one season, East Carolina's reputation for physical, game-changing defense gave way to one that was soft, ill-prepared, undisciplined and weak. By mid-season in 2010, opponents didn’t even bother taking the time to go through the press tradition of giving compliments to the ECU defensive unit. It was a foregone conclusion that you were going to pile up yards and points in a hurry against the Pirates.

There were ample reasons for the failings on defense, starting with the departure of nine starters, three of whom are on NFL rosters (two having garnered Super Bowl rings). There were injuries, particularly on the defensive line. And, there were internal program issues that saw projected starters at linebacker on the bench. But, while all true, there is no excuse for scholarship football players not playing fundamentally sound football or for consistently getting whipped nearly to the man in the one-on-one match-ups on the field.

Systemic issues? Perhaps. There were some rumors swirling that there might be some chemistry issues related to hesitancy from some of the veteran players to buy into the defensive system. At times it looked as if the players really were not fundamentally sound — an issue that generally falls to coaching.

At the end of the day, however, players must play and be eager to seize opportunities in front of them. If there is good news, it is the fact that it really cannot get any worse for the ECU defense. Coach McNeill has said that the issues will be addressed. Recruiting for the season revealed this mindset when 14 young men were brought in on the defensive side, 12 of whom play in the front seven with four of those from the junior college ranks (3 DEs and an ILB). Make no mistake, these four young men are expected to come in and start or provide starter-level depth. It will be something to build the unit around in 2011.

One thing that 2010 did afford the staff was a look at young guys. The thing about younger guys is that you cannot undervalue experience on the field. They will all get bigger, stronger, and faster, and the reps taken in distress in 2010 will convert to better reps in 2011. There were some flashes of talent out there in some of the young guys from the front, through the linebackers, to the secondary. With the Pirates' horsepower on offense, a solid step forward on defense could help yield more wins. But there is a lot of work to do to begin talking about a great season given what was on the field defensively a year ago.

With the assessment of current talent, the big story around the football program is that there is a change in base defense under way within the program moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4. So… what’s the big deal? It’s just a one guy moving back a level, right? No. The change is a huge one, but maybe the right one for the personnel, considering the injuries that were persistent up front in 2010. For a team that simply could not get to the QB in 2010, switching the onus from 1st to 2nd level defenders might be a great thing. Three of the top NFL sackmasters are outside linebackers (DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison, and Joey Porter), who each operate out of a 3-4 base defense. The challenge goes from the DE having to whip an offensive tackle with power and agility and then accelerate to the QB... to a faster, more agile OLB having room to run past the OTs who are busy dealing with the DEs. It might be a good move for the defense, but it must be seen with equal parts of caution as well — someone up front has to play nose tackle and play it WELL, the DEs have to be beasts against the run, and you better be able to play man-to-man VERY WELL. Not just the secondary …but your inside backers need to be able to go from hook to curl and flat fast. Still… any change should be based on personnel, so it could be an exciting season as the team tries to transition.

Coach McNeill has said that the defensive scheme would also include some 4-3 — perhaps situationally — but regardless of whether the D switches to a 3-4 or not, the success of the defense will still depend on the JUCOs meshing well, emerging leaders, a return to fundamental football, and a unified group (coaches and players alike). Focused attention will be on the front seven. Despite the statistical failures of the secondary, the group as a whole is very good and in 2011 will be a strong point of the defense. They looked bad in 2010 largely because the safeties were essentially committed to the run and the corners had to cover receivers forever given that there was no pressure on the quarterback.

One thing to bank on is that the defense will be better. That is for sure. How much better will determine whether the team is a conference contender or even a better-than-.500 team.

The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the returning Pirates. The ↑→↓ symbols next to each position header are an indicator of the relative strength or weakness of the unit. This rating is based not just on returning talent and experience, but more so on depth or question marks at the position.


  1. Leroy Vick (JR-JC), 6-6, 280: The JUCO from Georgia Military College enrolled in January and was brought in to help provide instant impact to a defensive front made up of young players with talent and older ones who have not been able to stay healthy. Enter Vick, who among his glowing credentials boasts durability and an injury free collegiate-level resume. And, he brings very good experience, albeit against JUCO talent. At 6-6, 280 pounds, he has a little more range (in the form of wingspan) than some of his colleagues, which should be a more reminiscent of former Pirate greats up front. At GMC he was an active defender who always found his way to the ball. His best strength is his run-stopping abilities — perfect for the role he will be asked to play — and he is strong enough to bull rush and collapse the pocket for a sack now and then. But more importantly, he is not easy to turn out of the hole… something that was missing big-time a year ago. Expect Vick to push for a starting role in 2011.
  2. Matt Milner (SO-RS), 6-4, 248: One of the bigger and more pleasant surprises up front had to be Milner. Though the coaching staff was high on him from the outset, most figured that it was more because the ranks were thin than because Milner was so outstanding. While it is true that the ranks were thin, Milner put together an impressive redshirt freshman campaign, piling up 47 tackles (7 for loss), 3 sacks, a pass break-up, a pass deflection, five QB hurries, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, one of which he took back for a TD. Milner has a lot of work to do to get where he needs to be to be a top-line starter, particularly in the area of fundamental jobs like containment, but he will improve and should compete for starting depth chart positioning in the spring.
  3. Derrell Johnson (SO), 6-1, 259: Back in spring ball in 2010, Johnson turned plenty of heads looking like anything but a true freshman. At 6-1, 259 lbs., he is more of a traditional end and he had what, in any other given year during which the defense was not so bad, would be called a spectacular season. With 40 tackles (4½ for loss), a sack and 2 QB hurries, Johnson has a base to build on now and he should get bigger and better this spring now that he has adjusted to the speed of college football. Expect Johnson to be solidly in the mix for one of the two starting defensive end positions in the spring.
  4. Lee Pegues (SO), 6-2, 276: Because of injuries to the defensive tackles, Pegues saw his redshirt lifted in 2010 and he saw action in the final five games of the season, making a decent accounting of himself with 11 tackles and a QB hurry. Pegues looked good considering he was a true freshman in there. So good that the staff opted to move him outside to the DE position heading into the spring, to create more depth in the unit. He has good size for the end and is a very active attacker. The experience will count towards helping Pegues accelerate his learning curve now that he understands what he will face in live collegiate action. He must get stronger and more reliable in the fundamentals, but Pegues has a great future ahead. Look for him to be a backup in 2011 (or take his redshirt) and be on the radar for more substantial playing time in 2012.
  5. Maurice Falls (FR-RS), 6-2, 240: A talented freshman that the staff was able to redshirt in 2010. Falls is a bit light at just over 240 pounds and not the rangiest of builds at 6-2, but time invested in the strength program should start to pay off for Falls. Given the inexperience and lack of numbers at defensive end, Falls should get a fair look in the spring. Hopefully with the influx of several JUCO defensive ends, Falls can ease into playing time and prepare for more significant defensive line reps in 2012. Falls should be a good contributor to special teams in 2011.

Position Analysis: Going into 2010, the defensive end position was in deep trouble. Opening day saw a pair of converted linebackers — both true freshmen — as the primary DEs on the field. Some of the deficit at the position was due to a gap in recruiting classes and other contributing factors included disappointing showings of some of the veterans (like Maurice Mercer who is no longer on the team). While the young guys performed admirably, with Justin Dixon providing pretty much the only pass rush the Pirates had all season, the alarm bells must have been ringing so loud and often that defensive ends coach Marc Yellock had to be looking for where the candid camera was hidden. Fortunately, one recruiting season can vastly change the outlook of a position and Yellock must be eager to see what he can do with the junior college and frosh players that signed with the Pirates in February. With a pair of highly-regarded JUCO ends and a pair of monster freshmen rolling in this summer and fall, last year’s youth and inexperience may quickly become a strength on the defensive front. In JUCOs Vick, Chris Baker (6-3, 260) and John Lattimore (6-4, 260), the Pirates have three coveted, true collegiate defensive ends joining the roster, all of whom will be expected to win jobs in the fall. While the latter two DEs will not be here till summer, Vick is already in the house and he will get the full benefit of the spring to stake his claim to a job. Furthermore, spring will be perfect preparation for Milner and Johnson for a great competition in the fall with the new guys. Throw Pegues — who shifted outside from the interior during the off-season — into the mix and the position is quickly getting stronger and deeper. Either way, the Pirates have a great, great chance to go from rag-tag to stacked at the position, which should translate into pressure from the outside and much better containment. The two freshman coming in also look the part in 6-6, 250 Dontrill Hyman and 6-5, 260-pounder Jeton Beavers. During spring, look for the returning DEs to be much more dynamic after a year in the fire. If Lattimore and Baker are legit, then the fall will bring all-out wars for the starting jobs, making the defensive front worlds better. If the JUCOs are not what they purport to be, then at least those coming back will be more sound given a year of experience.


  1. Antonio Allison (SR-RS), 6-4, 293: Expected to be a force at DT going into the 2010 season, Allison brought a mixed bag of results. He played in 12 games, but never really solidified himself as one of the guys in the starting lineup. His 23 tackles (1½ for loss), ½ sack, and blocked kick were solid numbers, but not the type of numbers expected from a player who was to be another of the great DLs produced by ECU. That said, Coach Duane Price indicated that though Allison played beat up all season, he performed stronger down the stretch and the staff is very excited about his upcoming senior year, expecting him to be both a leader and a beast on the field. If he can build on his finish to 2010, Allison may emerge, finally, as a mainstay in the rotation with Brooks up front for the Pirates. Expect to see improvement from Allison as he enters his final campaign as a Pirate.
  2. Michael Brooks (JR), 6-3, 287: Probably the most talented defensive tackle on the roster and, when healthy, has been an all-league type talent. Big, strong, disciplined and talented, Brooks is most reminiscent of his predecessors (e.g., Jay Ross and Linval Joseph) than the numbers in 2010 would support. Because of injuries, he saw action in only 7 games in 2010, registering 29 tackles (3½ for loss), ½ sack, an INT, a pass deflection and a QB hurry, giving evidence that he is the type of player who can make a big difference up front. Brooks is critical to the success of the defensive front in 2011. Brooks draws rave reviews from his position coach, Price, as being a player whose approach to the game is one that others should adopt. He plays 150% at all times and he is a technically sound player. Brooks is expected to heal up to 100% by 2011 and will be expected to not only be a starter at DT, but also be one of the major leaders on the defense. Expect him to be a force on the defensive front in 2011, though he may not participate fully in the spring.
  3. Robert Jones (JR), 6-3, 268: Another talented emerging lineman who has the potential to become a star now that he has had a full season of experience to leverage into 2011. Jones seemed a little slow and undisciplined at times but as Coach Price has indicated, he was more sound down the stretch, which should bode well for him and his opportunities in 2011. Jones registered 28 tackles (1½ for loss), 2 QB hurries, and a fumble recovery in 2010 and played in all 13 games. That type of experience can only help the defensive front make necessary improvements next season. Jones’ future will rest on his ability to be a more consistent player every down for the Pirates.
  4. Jimmy Booth (SO-RS), 6-2, 304: An up-and-coming strong tackle who saw action in 11 of the games in 2010, registering 14 tackles (1 for loss), ½ sack, and a QB hurry. He needs to improve on technique and discipline, but with a full season on the field, Booth will improve a bunch in spring and beyond. Look for Booth to provide quality depth and make a run at starter-like playing time in 2011.
  5. Terry Williams (FR-RS), 6-1, 338: A redshirt season should have provided enough time to understand the defensive philosophy as Williams heads into his first active season, moving into the defensive interior. He is a load at 338 pounds, but it remains to be seen how he carries the mass on the field. Coach Price is very high on his abilities. 2011 will be a crash course in adjusting to the demands of the collegiate game and a nice setup for Williams to push for playing time in 2012.
  6. Chrishon Rose (FR-RS), 6-4, 281: Like Williams, Rose is a guy that Coach Price highlighted as a future player. A redshirt season has benefited him in the weight room, film room, and academically and now Rose will go through his first spring fighting for a spot on the depth chart. Likely, that real spot will probably come in 2012, but with the penchant for injuries that the Pirates had last year, Rose could see more action than he would otherwise.

Position Analysis: Coach Price likes what he has currently on the roster, but acknowledged that one of the biggest needs is for the guys on the roster to develop the hard mental edge needed to excel in the interior. It was that edge that allowed Josh Smith to be so effective despite not having all the prototypical features of a defensive tackle. There is talent in the group and there are two guys that have that edge if they can stay healthy. Michael Brooks really is that good… but he has been hampered by injuries and whether he will be healthy by kickoff of the season remains to be seen. Allison has every tool and skill necessary to be dominant at the position and Price suspects that if Allison can maintain the work ethic and mental approach he took down the stretch in 2010 and carry it into spring, the rising senior may stun some folks next year, emerging as a standout run stuffer of NFL-caliber. In Jones and Booth, the Pirates now boast two experienced, potentially-very-good players who will vie for starting time or provide quality depth. Both have deficits in fundamentals that must be corrected, but have the other pre-requisites to do well. Williams and Rose should start getting their feet wet in the rigors of college football, but should not be counted on to be significant players in the lineup in 2011. A trio of talented freshmen also will join the ranks in the fall in William Foxx (6-2, 230), Terrell Stanley (6-2, 260), and Jonathan White (6-4, 275), if White is not at DE. If healthy, the unit could be respectable in 2011.


  1. Cliff Perryman (SR-RS), 6-1, 225: It was expected by many that Perryman would easily win one of the outside linebacker positions in 2010 after spending 2009 as an edge rusher at DE and hybrid linebacker. He had plenty of opportunities, seeing action in 10 games in 2010, registering 17 tackles, but the fact that he could not lock down a starting position given the state of the defense should be seen as a strong indicator that his opportunities as a rising senior are limited now. Perhaps a super strong spring might change things, but most likely, for Perryman, 2011 will be more of the same… spot play on defense and special teams duty. Perryman can be a solid reserve in 2011 if he is in the right frame of mind.
  2. Matt Thompson (SR-RS), 6-2, 214: Thompson was another upperclassman expected to rise to starter for 2010 and he did make a strong run at it, earning 2 starts early in the season. His numbers were solid for the 7 games in which he played: 16 tackles (2½ for loss), a sack, a QB hurry and a fumble recovery. An eye injury cost him 6 games. Thompson has the skills to compete for a starting position in 2011 at OLB and if he should win the job, he will be up to the task. If not, he will be an as-good-as-the-starter reserve, creating a good situation for the defense.
  3. Lamar McLendon (JR), 6-0, 217: One of the few bright spots on ECU’s defense in 2010 was the emergence of McLendon. For Pirate fans, it was a relief to see a backer playing in the mold of a Pierre Parker, Jeremy Chambliss, and Chris Mattocks. McLendon plays fierce and you can see how much he loves the game when he is out there. He laid claim to an OLB position in the 4th game of the season and did not relinquish it. He is a playmaker who makes plays all over the field. He registered 63 tackles (7 for loss), 2 pass deflections, 2 pass breakups, and 3 QB hurries for the season and stood out because he played his position correctly, making very few obvious errors. McLendon appears to be the only sure thing heading into the 2011 campaign. Look for McLendon to battle for one of the OLB positions and be even better in 2011.  
  4. Marke Powell (JR), 6-3, 220: One of the Pirates more promising outside linebackers a year ago, Powell found himself at DE trying to shore up a thin position. With lack of experience at the position and being considerably undersized, Powell — despite being dinged up — was pretty impressive in the new role, albeit for just 7 games before being lost to injury. His numbers, however — 23 tackles (1½ for loss), a sack, 3 pass breakups, 3 pass deflections, 2 QB hurries, and a blocked kick — reveal his athleticism and effectiveness Most indicators within the program point to Powell moving back to OLB. This move makes the linebacking corps instantly better with Powell — assuming he is fully healthy — likely to stake claim to an OLB job where he can continue to harass quarterbacks off the edge and also help in the pass coverage game. He is a playmaker, a hustler, and a guy who thrives on the one-on-one battles. At 6-3, 220 pounds with wheels, he will bring additional physicality to the second level. Look for Powell to be the likely candidate to work opposite of Lamar McLendon or Justin Dixon in the retooled corps in 2011.
  5. Ty Holmes (SO-RS), 6-1, 233: Of the youngsters in the pack of potentially good linebackers on the roster, Holmes quickly distinguished himself as the one who was ready sooner. He found his way into 8 games and registered 13 tackles (1 for loss) in a very limited backup role. Holmes has good skills, good size, and found himself getting reps behind Melvin Patterson at middle linebacker. Holmes has a very good shot in the spring to solidify himself on the two-deep at one of the inside backer positions. Holmes will get PT in 2011 either way, but hopefully his campaign will be as a backup, prepping for a more significant role in 2012.
  6. Kyle Tudor (SO-RS), 6-3, 233: Tudor was so impressive as a true freshman that then-defensive coordinator Greg Hudson almost played him as a true freshman. However, he struggled to earn playing time, seeing action in only 4 contests in 2010. With the defensive problems, particularly at linebacker, it seems he would have had more opportunities. Still, Tudor is a fundamentally sound, hard-working linebacker who should see his playing time increase in 2011 as a reserve.
  7. Justin Dixon (SO), 6-1, 228: Dixon was shifted right before the season started from linebacker to defensive end because of need. Though undersized and inexperienced, what was clear before he was lost for the season in the fourth game is that Dixon is a stud football player. As a true freshman, he made his presence known right away, providing the biggest pass-rushing threat the Pirates had. Against the toughest part of the schedule, he managed to register 10 tackles (5½ for loss) and 3 sacks in less than 4 full games. When he was injured, the pass rush was never there again for the Pirates. The biggest takeaway from his four games is that Dixon needs to be on the field. Moving Dixon back to linebacker makes big sense for the Pirates. He can play inside or outside and his penchant for getting to the football will have an instant impact on the defensive front. If Dixon is back to full health, he will start somewhere for the Pirates.
  8. Jeremy Grove (FR-RS), 6-1, 228: Grove is a throwback-type LB of the variety that have thrived at ECU in the past (think, Jeff Kerr or Nick Johnson). He is a true middle/inside linebacker and has a very good handle on the Xs and Os of the position. A year of watering into the schemes the Pirates hope to employ should help him as he vies for playing time at a position which desperately needs a player to step up and grab playing time. Grove is a sure tackler who will be mentally ready for the job. Still, he needs the reps at the collegiate level before he will be ready to really take the position by the horns. That said, depending on player movement and JUCO impact, he could find himself in the mix in 2011. Spring should give him some opportunities.
  9. Jake Geary (FR-RS), 6-3, 246: Geary is another in the mold of the classic middle/inside linebacker. He has size, speed and smarts and plays in the old school model. Like his classmate, Grove, Geary has the tools to be a good middle linebacker. Geary will have plenty of opportunities during the spring to get the staff’s attention, but like Grove, if things break right for the Pirates, his future is still in the future.

Position Analysis: In 2010, it was the case of the missing starters to be named later for the Pirates. Seemingly, two years of recruiting classes vanished when expected starters Steve Spence and Cliff Perryman found themselves nowhere near the starting lineup. Spence is no longer on the roster and Perryman appears destined for journeyman status as he begins his senior campaign. Moves made to shore up the defensive line completed the dismantling of the linebacker succession plan altogether. The good news for ECU is that it has the athletes to put a high-quality linebacking unit on the field in 2011, if deficits elsewhere don’t necessitate further position experimentation. Part of the idea behind moving to a 3-4 base was to ensure that the linebackers stay in the second level. Imagine, for a moment, the sheer talent that would be on the field if McLendon, Dixon, Holmes, and Powell, for example, were on the field at the same time at linebacker. Speed, physicality, and an attacking mindset are the three attributes these emerging stars share. That scenario is really speculation from the outside looking in, but it makes sense considering that Dixon and Powell were physically overmatched at DE. To further solidify the corps, particularly in the middle, the staff brought in a stellar JUCO prospect in the form of 6-2, 230 pound Joseph (JoJo) Blanks who will be expected to compete for an inside backer starting role in the fall. Blanks, a classic, big, downhill tackler, was the man in the middle for two years at ASA College in NY where he led a defensive unit in 2010 that was tops in all of college football against the run. In the spring, keep an eye out on Dixon and Powell. If they are at linebacker, the battles for top slots on the DC are going to be good ones, benefiting the team overall. Outside, common wisdom would pencil in McLendon — the most consistent and legitimate linebacker on the field in 2010 — and Powell, if healthy. Thompson will also be in the mix, if healthy. Perryman could factor, too, if he leverages experience properly. Inside, edge would have to go to Dixon and Holmes, with Geary and Grove — the young guns — bringing fundamentally sound inside play to the spring battles. Three freshman will join in the summer/fall in Treshawn Council (6-1, 210), Zeek Bigger (6-3, 230), and Montese Overton (6-3, 200), all three very active backers. Clearly, the linebacker position was the biggest weakness in 2010 and contributed to the downfall of the units in front of and behind them. How much this unit improves will dictate the defensive season in 2011, regardless of upgrades up front and talent in back. If you want to focus in on something in the spring, take note of the linebackers as the harbinger of things to come in the fall.


  1. Emanuel Davis (SR), 5-11, 190: Another season and more post-season recognition for one of the premiere corners in Conference USA and perhaps the country. Davis’s reputation took some shots in 2010 due to a non-existent pass rush and no run-stopping up front, but last season also probably taught Davis more than he ever could have learned had the D not tanked. Expected to be a big leader in 2011, Davis got a huge dose of adversity in 2010 which he can now leverage to be the leader needed on the defense, not just the secondary. Consistently matched up against opponents' best receivers with quarterbacks afforded all day to throw, Davis still managed enough of a season to gain All-Conference USA honorable mention honors. Davis piled up 54 tackles (3 for loss), 2 INTs, 9 PBUs, 11 PDs, 2 FR and 1 FF in a very frustrating year for the NFL-coveted corner. There is no doubt that Davis will be the key to the secondary heading into his final campaign in 2011. A pretty good bet for the NFL, Davis will be more challenged this year as a leader and mentor than he will as a player. With any kind of improvement up front, expect Davis to go out with a great season.
  2. Jacobi Jenkins (JR-RS), 6-0, 178: It was learning under fire for Jenkins in 2010. When starter Travis Simmons was lost to injury, Jenkins was pressed into a starting role. He struggled at times, giving up some big plays and at times looking a step slow or at moments, lost. However, he also showed moments of brilliance. Mostly, he got needed playing time, registering 30 tackles, 2 PBUs, and 2 PDs on the season. Jenkins needs to wrap his mind around the fact that he will come back as the incumbent starter and will have to up his game to keep that role as he will get serious pressure from younger players. Fortunately, he has a veteran unit around him to allow him to cover the opponent’s second receiver.
  3. Rahkeem Morgan (JR-RS), 6-0, 185: A special teams standout, Morgan showed the Pirate Nation that he definitely is skilled in the tackling phase of the game. A vicious hitter, Morgan also showed some flashes of skills and looked pretty good all around in his limited action as a reserve corner. He posted 17 tackles along with a fumble recovery in his first season playing out on the corner with some consistency. Morgan has good size and brings physicality to the position reminiscent of Davis’s style. Look for Morgan to challenge Jenkins for playing time at corner. Either way, Morgan should be a solid member of the depth chart at corner in 2011.
  4. Leonard Paulk (JR-RS), 5-11, 192: Another physical corner, Paulk broke through in 2010, getting some backup duties and making the most of his opportunities by registering 15 tackles. It was thought that Paulk would be a safety, so at corner he is a bit raw, but he brings an attacking style to the position. Paulk should be a solid backup in 2011. Like Morgan, Paulk shouldn’t go into spring thinking anything but “starter.” He will have a chance to battle for a starting role opposite of Davis and is a good bet to be solidly on the depth chart for the season.

Position Analysis: The secondary really was lit up in 2010 but, frankly, the task was nearly impossible, especially for the corners. With virtually no pass rush up front and a pair of safeties who had to play run first, the corners truly were out on islands, with no over-the-top help, facing quarterbacks who had all day to throw the football. For a team with such bad statistical numbers, the Pirates really did have two of the best corners in the country, but the demands were too much for even them. With the likelihood that the front seven will at least be somewhat improved, it is safe bet that the statistical numbers will begin swinging in a positive direction in the pass defense game. Because Travis Simmons was lost for a significant amount of time, the Pirates were able to break in his heir-apparent in Jenkins. How that translates to 2011 is very positive with the Pirates returning all starters in the secondary. Jenkins has to close the gap between himself and the other three by accepting that he is a starter and the expectations are much higher going into 2011. Davis on the other corner still is a premiere cover corner who plays run as good as any in the country. He will play on Sundays and will again draw all the top receivers week-in and week-out. It was unfortunate that Dekota Marshall was denied a 6th year (which is under appeal, but not likely to happen), as he would have stepped in nicely opposite of Davis. Fortunately, Jenkins at least has some experience now and should improve. Jenkins will be pushed by Paulk — who established himself as a very physical corner who excels in supporting the run — and Morgan who is more in the Davis mold. Two freshmen are coming in summer/fall in Glen Hilliard (5-10, 170) and Rocco Scarfone (5-11, 165). With Davis at one corner, the pressure will shift to those vying for the other job. Jenkins showed flashes, but also got burned a bit. Paulk and Morgan simply didn’t get enough reps to pencil in yet. For the spring, tune into the three-way battle for the one position and keep an eye on how Davis operates from a leadership perspective as these are the two major story lines for the corner position.


  1. Derek Blacknall (SR-RS), 5-11, 180: Blacknall had been talked about as a potential starter since he entered the program four years ago. In 2010, despite the tough statistical season, he emerged as a legitimate safety for the Pirates. He is the team’s 2nd leading returning tackler, having posted 73 tackles (2 for loss), 2 INTs, 6 PBUs, 8 PDs, returning one of his picks for a 46 yard TD. Blacknall demonstrated that he is a hitter, for sure, but there were gaps in his game that need to close if he is to fulfill his potential. Some of his shortcomings were due to the fact that he and fellow safety Bradley Jacobs were forced to be magicians, playing both the run and pass equally. With teams running so easily on the front seven, Blacknall was forced to take risks and at times, opponents went over the top and he got burned. Still, he is a decent safety and could become a very good one if the Pirates improve in other places, namely up front. Expect Blacknall to be better in 2011.

  2. Bradley Jacobs (SR-TR), 5-10, 192: When Jacobs transferred in, he made no bones about it: he intended to start immediately and make an impact. He delivered on both goals. Despite the tough year defensively, it was not due to Jacobs who was one of the few consistent performers on the defense. He returns for 2011 as the team’s leading tackler from a year ago, having piled up 80 tackles (1 for loss), 4 INTs, 6 PBUs, 10 PDs. He also led the team in INTs and proved to be a physical presence on the team and a leader. While he had his share of miscues, they were mostly attributable to lack of any run defense up front and no pressure on the quarterback. Jacobs showed he can play the run well and has pretty good coverage skills having broken up or otherwise killed 20 passes that targeted him. Jacobs will be a leader and a top defender in 2011.

  3. Justin Venable (JR-RS), 6-1, 202: Venable was a special teams standout in 2010 and got some time in at safety where he made 3 tackles in the 6 games he played in. Venable is expected to step up in 2011 as a junior. He will be expected to be a full-time reserve and should be able to see the field a lot more in the coming campaign. He is a long-armed coverage man who enjoys lowering the boom on runners. His physical presence will come in handy as the defense tries to re-establish its physical reputation.

  4. Damon Magazu (SO), 5-11, 202: Every once in awhile, a player comes into the program and he is fully-baked — ready to go from the jump. Perhaps it is growing up in a football family with a father who coaches in the NFL for a living. Whatever the recipe, Magazu is a football purist who came to ECU ready to play. As a true freshman, he saw action on special teams and as a backup safety in all 13 games, registering 30 tackles, an INT, a forced fumble, and a pass deflection. Not only did Magazu endear himself to the Pirates Nation with big hit after big hit and with sound fundamentals, his interception that sealed the overtime win against N.C. State made him an instant star. The bigger thing is that Magazu is a good safety and as a rising sophomore, has the potential to battle for a job this spring and could be — dare it be said — the next Van Eskridge-type impact safety in the program. Time will tell, but his approach and work ethic says “special” all over it. Expect Magazu to really push for more playing time in 2011.  

Position Analysis: The best thing about the safety position is that what ECU has is well established. Jacobs, a JUCO transfer a year ago, is a very good safety displaying both the ability to come up and lay the wood and to come up with the big INT or pass breakup. Blacknall is on his way to being equally good, showing a passion and intensity that is the core trait for a safety. Magazu is a star-in-waiting who could jump into the starting role should one of the starters take a break in the spring. Venable is a sound safety as well who may be growing into his own this year. The program brought in one freshman with potential at safety in Domonique Lennon, a big kid at 6-2, 190, but fans will have to wait till fall to see if he has the goods to play as a true freshman. The bigger question for the unit is whether or not it will have to serve as a defacto linebacking corps again this season or if the front seven will be able to handle the run without having the safeties having to play so tight in. If the front seven can get it together, the safeties will be just fine… maybe even among the better units in C-USA. If the front seven falters again as it did in 2010, the safeties will struggle. Their fate is only partially in their own hands. With the Pirates' offense to work against in the spring, a lot will be learned about this unit early. Particularly keep an eye on the younger safeties. If they challenge the starters, the unit will likely be a pretty good one in 2011.


  1. Ben Ryan (SR-RS), 6-2, 204: Having lost the place-kicking job to Michael Barbour, Ryan gave punting a go and it turned out that he was pretty good at it. He averaged only 39.4 yards per punt, but more than half of his kicks were either killed inside the opponent’s 20 or fair caught. He was consistent and had no punts blocked. With another spring camp, his distance average should go over 40 and if he can be as consistent as he was in 2010, we are solid at punter.

  2. Trent Tignor (SO), 6-5, 214: As a true freshman, Tignor was the team’s holder and also the backup punter to Ryan. Tignor is a solid punter and will be groomed to be the next punter at ECU after Ryan finishes in 2011. Tignor provides extremely good depth at the position and would be fine should he be pressed into action.

  3. Matt Millisor (SO-RS), 6-0, 200: Millisor pushed hard and almost won the punting and place-kicking jobs in 2010. He was edged in both categories, but is skilled enough to do either should it be needed. Millisor is likely biding his time to step into the place-kicking role after Barbour graduates following the 2011 season.

Position Analysis: The Pirates enjoy unusual depth at punter with a proven veteran returning in Ryan, who was extremely good in the short-kicking game and solid in terms of getting off his kicks and consistently hitting the ball downfield. Experience should take Ryan to a new level in 2011. Tignor and Millisor are very good backups and will provide plenty of options should Ryan lose his edge or suffer an injury.

E-mail Ron Cherubini

Ron Cherubini Archives

03/21/2011 03:35 AM


©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.