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Monday, March 26, 2012
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Features Writer

Part III: Respectable 'D' now seeking greatness

Team Effort: To a man, the effort was stellar in 2011, giving the defense a chance to be great in 2012. (ECU SID image)

Breaking Down the 2012 Edition of Pirate Football

Editor's note: With the East Carolina Pirates ramping up for the Ruffin McNeill regime's third go-round of spring drills, the timing is opportune for Ron Cherubini to delve into the good, the not-so-good, the unknowns and the possibilities surrounding the program. Cherubini examines the state of the nation — the Pirate Football Nation — in three articles. Part I provides an introduction to the series; Part II focuses on the ECU offensive unit's strengths and weaknesses; and Part III analyzes the potential of the Pirates' defensive unit.

Ron Cherubini's Three-part Spring Football Preview:
• Thursday, Mar. 22: Charting the Pirates' 2012 Journey
• Friday, Mar. 23: With Davis gone, can 'O' raid again?
• Monday, Mar. 26: Respectable 'D' now seeking greatness

Stage set for ECU's defense to become C-USA's best

By Ron Cherubini
All rights reserved.


What a difference a year can make. In 2010, the East Carolina defense set all sorts of records — for futility. The Keystone Cops of the college football world, even the weakest of teams found dicing the ECU defense to be so easy that they could barely find words to describe the buffet upon which their offenses feasted.

There were the fans calling for defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell’s head. But Coach Ruffin McNeil stuck by his man, a man he knew could get it done. A change was made, however, to stoke a resurrection of the defense. Mitchell installed the 3-4 and in one glorious off-season, the defense transformed from an ultra-thin defensive front, to a deep first and second level. Throw in a surprise All-American in the middle and BAM — the Pirates were once again relevant on defense.

Not that there isn’t work to do for the unit that returns 8 starters and 24 lettermen, but the work is manageable. The front 7 will be good… maybe extremely good, with talent two and sometimes even three deep at each position. The secondary is where gaps will have to be plugged as Mitchell will have to find three new starters (two corners and a strong safety) to line up next to outstanding free safety Damon Magazu. The good news is that the talent pool to fill those gaps is much more significant that it has ever been in the Ruff era.

It was a nice blend of emerging talent and older players who discovered the talent and desire that brought them to ECU in first place that led to the unit taking such a big step in 2011. Now that emerging talent has transformed into hardened veterans, even if several of them are merely sophomores.

To watch the defense in action in 2011 was to see a team that finally had gotten it from two very important perspectives: 1) fundamentals… they guys were always in place to make plays; 2) fire… they played with passion, down after down after down.

With those two ingredients, you can compete every time.

The pieces are now in place, the players have adapted to and embraced the scheme and have proven that they can compete. The next step is taking the defense to a level where it can decide the outcome of a game. With a new quarterback on the offensive side of the ball, the defense has a prime opportunity to showcase itself and bring back the day when the defense dictates what happens on the turf at Dowdy-Ficklen.

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. Matt Milner (JR-RS): Milner has been an anchor on one of the defensive ends since his redshirt frosh season and, with each season, he gets better and better. With another year of Camp Connors under his belt, Milner may still give up about 25 pounds across the line, but with speed, smarts, elusiveness and power, he more than makes up for it. He adjusted well to the demands of the 3-4 defense and, while doing well in tying up offensive linemen, he still found his way into the backfield with four TFLs, a QB hurry and 1/2 sack. Milner will once again be that anchor on one side of the defensive front. Look for him to have an outstanding spring and pay attention to his refined technique now that he has the new requirements for this defense down.

  • 2. Justin Dixon (JR): Dixon, once a promising linebacker, was converted to DE his true freshman season, bulked up and was outstanding — the team’s best pass rusher — for the first four games of the 2010 season before being lost with an injury. With the switch to the 3-4 in 2011, it seemed to make all the sense in the world to move him to outside linebacker in the scheme. But for several reasons — not the least of which was his relative health — Dixon struggled to pick up the responsibilities. So, it should be no surprise that Dixon is heading into the spring back at DE where his speed and nose for the quarterback should be a big help and allow the Pirates to shift gears in passing situations. Expect Dixon, a very talented athlete, to be motivated this spring as he still has a chance to be a player who leaves his mark on what is becoming a very good defense.

  • 3. Lee Pegues (JR): Big, powerful and ready for prime time, Pegues got much-needed game experience in 2011, piling up 26 tackles, including 1 1/2 for loss, a QB hurry and a sack. At 280 pounds he is more of a traditional 3-4 defensive end and allows the Pirates to bulk up when needed. So ready is Pegues that Darryl Johnson and Maurice Falls were moved to outside linebacker to allow them to use their best skills (killing QBs) while the likes of Pegues wreak havoc on lumbering OLs. Expect Pegues to have the type of camp that a contender for a starting role typically has… an all-out assault on the position.

  • 4. John Lattimore (JR-TR): Another reason why Johnson and Falls have been relocated to the OLB position is the expectation that JUCO stud DE Lattimore, who missed last season with a freak camp injury, will be ready to compete for a starting role. Lattimore is a beast of a DE and he also has the big body needed in this defense. At 6-4 and a powerful 265, Lattimore could be the best DE on the roster if he plays anything like he did as a JUCO. Lattimore is chomping at the bit to get on the field so he should have a very definitive spring camp.

  • 5. Jeton Beavers (FR-RS): Beavers is a guy whose body — at 6-5, 260 pounds — is so lean that he could easily pack on another 30 pounds and stay athletic. He is one that has been impressive since he was recruited a year ago. He is taking care of business in the classroom and on the field, he is a player who can give the team pressure out of the DE spot. How well he has adapted to the defensive scheme will be what defines his spring camp. A spot on the depth chart is not out of the question for Beavers.

  • 6. Chrishon Rose (SO-RS): Mitchell is extremely excited to see what some of his big-bodied, rangy, quick young DEs can do and Rose is one of the guys he has sort of circled in his notes. Rose did well in his action in 2011, getting 12 tackles, including 1/2 tackle for loss in his nine appearances. At 6-4, 288 pounds, he is the perfect size for the 3-4 defensive front and now he is coming into spring with a nice bite from the real-game apple. Expect Rose to compete for a spot on the depth chart at DE.

  • 7. Terrell Stanley (FR-RS): Depending on where a few other defensive linemen are this spring, Stanley will either get the bulk of his reps at DE or at nose tackle. He is slotted as a swing player, but probably sees more work early at DE. He is an athletic defensive lineman, but he needs to get bigger, particularly if he is to see snaps at the nose. Spring will be for Stanley to solidify himself into a primary position.

  • 8. Jonathon White (FR-RS): Another of Mitchell’s young, prototypical DEs, White has been quietly and effectively preparing for this moment since coming into the program a year ago. Though maybe a little light at 268, the 6-4 White has been through Camp Connors and is expected to be a strong force at the position. He will compete for a spot on the depth chart.

Position Analysis: Right now, going into the spring, the Pirates are well-stocked at the defensive end position and stocked with the right types of players for the 3-4. So well stocked, Mitchell was able to move two of his best pass rushers back to outside linebacker, the position in the 3-4 responsible for QB pressure. The expectations are very, very high for JUCO transfer John Lattimore to battle and win one of the two DE positions and the expectation is that Matt Milner will be a perfect foil of quickness and elusiveness on the opposite side. But more than that, the Pirates are really boasting four starter-caliber DEs when you add Lee Pegues and Justin Dixon to the mix. Pegues proved he can play the position a year ago, and love or hate Dixon, he is simply a pass rushing machine with a load of strength in his lower body. With two-deep in experience, the youngsters all look the part of big-time DEs. Starting with Chrishon Rose who got valuable game experience a year ago and then adding three athletic, freshman, you have the makings for a very competitive spring and a very nice three-deep for the Pirates.


  • 1. Michael Brooks (SR): Simply the Rock. Brooks, according to Mitchell, is as dominant a nose guard as there is in all of Conference USA. And guess what? Brooks now heads into spring actually understanding the position he switched to a year ago. Brooks was a game influencer in 2011 and you better believe that opposing OCs game-plan Brooks, who can be a menace to the pocket. He piled up 55 tackles — yeah, that many — which included 5 1/2 for loss and a sack — from the nose position. As a senior, Brooks will be playing to solidify his opportunities at the next level and has the type of talent that scouts will note. Expect another year of Camp Connors to pay even more dividends and the emergence of the young nose Terry Williams along with the return of Leroy Vick to allow Brooks to have the perfect number of reps at nose to dominate each down he is on the field. Spring is about establishing leadership for Brooks and staying healthy.

  • 2. Leroy Vick (JR-TR): There are no words to describe how disappointed Vick was when he found himself on the shelf for the 2011 season. He had a dominating spring camp a year ago and then… gone! Rather than wallow in the lost time, Vick diligently went to work healing and then bulking up in the fun we call Camp Connors. The result, an even bigger, stronger and motivated Vick. Vick will push Brooks, but will also have to contend with Williams. The result should be a highly-motivated Vick which benefits everyone, but Vick must first recover from yet another springtime physical blow. He suffered a concussion in early drills and the timing of his return was up in the air as of last week. When he's back, Vick will allow the Pirates to shift to an even front without issue. The 6-6, 283-pounder is a legit nose tackle and should be every bit that player this year, starting in Spring Camp.

  • 3. Terry Williams (SO-RS): The 6-1, 324-pound tank of a man exceeded everyone’s expectations in 2011. Though young and what many would consider too heavy, Williams showed both a quickness and a short coil pop that had even the head scratchers sitting back in their seats elbows up behind heads. As a primary backup to Brooks, not only did Williams rack up 31 tackles (3 for loss), but he was physically able to handle the number of reps, demonstrating that there was seldom a drop off when he filled in for Brooks. That is a high bar he met on most occasions and now the young nose tackle returns with high confidence and game experience. Williams will be on the depth chart come end of spring and he will be in the rotation, odd or even front.

  • 4. Will Foxx (FR): After a gray shirt season during which he acclimated to the collegiate academic rigors, Foxx joins the Pirates in time for spring ball and will be a very nice addition to the nose tackle corps. At 6-2, 288 pounds and with experience playing in a 3-4, the former Oak Ridge Military and Greensboro Page standout is simply hungry to get on the field. He is healed up from an injury that cost him the season in his final prep campaign. He is in a great position to take the spring to learn from the likes of the three powerful tackles in front of him and won’t be pressed too early. This is an acclimation spring for Foxx.

Position Analysis: The Pirates are very fortunate in regards to the players they have at the nose tackle position. Not only are they all dominant players at the position, they are stacked well for the future. Brooks is an all-league candidate with NFL potential and Williams has proven himself worthy at this level. Vick, for his part, was the top performing NT in the 2011 camp so the expectation is that a healthy Vick has the goods to be an all-league type player as well. With Foxx and Terrell Stanley, if needed, learning the ropes, should one of the top three be lost, there should be a player available to spell the frontline guys. This unit is going to wage a real war for the starting nose tackle position and despite whomever takes the top slot on the depth chart at end of spring, the battle will reprise itself each and every week during the season.


  • 1. Chris Baker (SR-TR): Baker was one of the less-touted JUCO transfers in 2011, but of those that came in for the defense, he had the most impact on the team, stepping into one of the OLB jobs and looking as if he had played top level college football all his life. He was physical and got results, finishing the season with 32 tackles (3 for loss), 1 1/2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and 2 fumble recoveries. His ability to so quickly acclimate was key in the defense’s ability to pull itself up from the dregs of football to a respectable position in the college football world. Baker now has a year into the system and is in his final campaign. There were rumors that he had some time in Mitchell’s doghouse for slipping into a junior college style of play now and then, but the DC is way high on Baker and cannot wait to see his senior backer at the WILL position after a year at Camp Connors. With a bigger body and more physicality, Mitchell believes that Baker can have a special season in 2012. Watch for Baker to emerge as a leader in the linebacking corps during the spring.

  • 2. James Craig (SR): A former walk-on, Craig was a mainstay on special teams for the Pirates and might challenge for a reserve spot as a regular outside backer this spring. He is a heady player with a Pirate's attitude. He may not be a household name, but he works and plays hard and might find himself in the mix in his final go-round. Regardless of how that pans out, Craig will be a leader on special teams and a good practice player in the spring.

  • 3. Derrell Johnson (JR): Given just how good Johnson was as a two-time starting DE, it is almost a given that he is expected to lock down one of the OLB jobs, but it will take some doing given the talent at the position. Johnson has proven that he is a relentless pass rusher and that is why Mitchell is so excited that he will have this weapon at the one position primarily responsible for getting to the QB. Johnson had 3 sacks along with 5 1/2 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 QB hurries from his DE position. Now he gets a straight track at the QB and will not have to contend with a tackle and a blocking back. Johnson will come into spring ready to take one of the starting jobs and is a good bet to get one. He must be drooling at the opportunity to pin ears back and go. Expect him to quickly get the feel for playing on two feet and to wreak havoc from the position this spring and beyond.

  • 4. Maurice Falls (SO-RS): Like Johnson, Falls is coming back from DE to OLB and for similar reasons. He is a very good pass rusher and got serious PT a year ago when he collected 2 tackles for loss to go with 2 sacks. He is bigger, stronger, and faster and, most of all, hungry for more PT. He will push for a starting position and will be a regular in the rotation regardless of whether or not he is on the field for the first snap of a game. Look for Falls to be in camp dead set on taking out his competition.

  • 5. Jake Geary (SO-RS): If you want to understand how good Geary played in his debut in 2011, think the Jeremy Grove of the OLB corps. Old school by nature and style, Geary is relentless in his big body. In his debut season, he piled up 29 tackles (5 for loss), including 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery — as a part-time back-up. He was gaining more and more snaps at the end of the year before he was shut down with an injury late in the season. Mitchell is very excited about Geary and his potential at the OLB spot and sees him thoroughly in the mix as well.

  • 6. Montese Overton (FR-RS): Don’t count out Overton when it comes to opportunities this spring. The staff worked very hard not to burn his redshirt because they were tempted almost daily. Though they did not burn the RS, Overton was pretty much in a ready-mode at backup to Powell at the SAM position. Mitchell is very high on Overton and expects him to compete for playing time this season. He was a big-time recruit for the Pirates, so expect him to come into camp with the idea that he can win a job. He brings incredible speed to the position which will allow the Pirates to go with a bit of a different approach to the position when he is out there.

Position Analysis: The off-season had started poorly for this unit when it was announced that star SAM backer Marke Powell was no longer on the team. It's a huge loss despite the talent at the position, but a loss the unit can overcome. The move of Johnson and Falls to OLB makes a ton of sense and in those two players you get two guys who could start to go along with a proven starter in Baker, a fast-riser in Geary and a gifted young talent in Overton. The question mark for this unit is really how well the two former DEs transition. Dixon couldn’t make the move a year ago, so there is risk. For spring, it is all about the jockeying that this group is going to go through to lock down where they sit on the depth chart heading into fall camp. This is a very good set of OLBs — if Johnson and Falls can play on two feet like they did with a hand on the ground — with the abilities being very close for each of them. No decisive drop off from ones to twos no matter who wins the two jobs.


  • 1. Daniel Drake (SR-TR): What an incredible story Drake was for the Pirates. A transfer from Marshall a few years ago who has battled some health concerns, Drake was nothing less than outstanding for the Pirates in his debut in the purple and gold. A real plugger at the Mike position, he gave the Pirates just what they lacked the previous season: a big, strong, hard-hitting, sure tackler up the middle. He also was willing to do all the dirty work needed in the middle and play a good lieutenant to emerging super star Jeremy Grove at the other Mike spot. Drake piled up 74 tackles (1 1/2 for loss) to go along with a sack and a QB hurry. Having Drake back inside is a nice luxury for the team as there is depth and talent at the position. Expect Drake to continue with his stellar play, not flashy, not loud, but steady, and effective. Also expect him to be an emerging leader for the unit.

  • 2. Ty Holmes (JR-RS): If it looked like Holmes fell short of expectations and hype a year ago, it is somewhat of a skewed reflection of the very talented rising junior. When asked what happened with Holmes in 2011, Mitchell could only laugh and say, well, he happened to play behind a freshman All-American. Despite seeing his opportunities somewhat limited by the young iron man in front of him, Holmes contributed out of a reserve role in 10 games a year ago. Holmes is a talented inside backer and will again vie for a depth chart spot on the inside. He is now acclimated to the system and will be motivated to show that he belongs in the same conversation as Grove and Drake. Expect another strong spring from Holmes.

  • 3. Kyle Tudor (JR-RS): It took Tudor a little while to get out of neutral in 2011 as he healed up from injuries, but once he got his sea legs back, he didn’t disappoint. In just 8 games, Tudor piled up 58 tackles (1/2 for loss), a sack, a PBU, a 2 QB hurries, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. It all came at a frantic pace, as though making up for lost time. Tudor complemented Drake’s power play, giving the Pirates a nice change of pace at the position when needed. Tudor now comes into spring confident that the potential that former ECU DC Greg Hudson was so high on is being realized under Coach Mitchell. Look for Tudor to up his game this spring and make the battle an intense on at the Mike position.

  • 4. Jeremy Grove (SO-RS): Let’s see... the team’s top tackler in 2011 with 122 tackles (3 ½ for loss), a sack, 2 PBUs, and 5 QB hurries... among the top tacklers in the nation ... and Freshman A-A status to go with all-league honors. What does this young, high-octane linebacker do for an encore? Mitchell says he will just keep doing what he is doing. Grove was the centerpiece of the ECU defensive renaissance of 2011 and is the face of the defense going into the 2012 season. He is now a known quantity but the way he plays, it won’t matter because his success lies in his fundamental soundness and his never-say-die approach to playing. Grove will miss spring practice rehabbing from a late off-season surgery, but he will have his head in it and that can only benefit him while providing others with key reps.

  • 5. Brandon Williams (SO): Williams got his feet wet in 2011, performing well in a reserve role and on special teams. He posted 9 tackles (1 for loss) and has acclimated to the system He is not an overly big body, but he plays big and will vie for a role on the depth chart inside.

  • 6. Zeek Bigger (FR-RS): Like Overton at the SAM position, Bigger also has Mitchell excited. Undersized by the defense’s standards at 6-2, 201 pounds, Bigger will not be expected to be a starter. Instead he will be expected to pick up game reps and help out when needed. Camp Connors will help him immensely as well.

Position Analysis: Once the worst unit of the worst defense in the nation, this inside backer unit is superb and brings a lot of flexibility to Mitchell’s scheme. They can go big, run heavy focus and quickly switch up to a 6-deep coverage with little effort. Each of the athletes in the unit is a sure tackler, which up till a year ago was lacking on the defense. With Grove and Drake atop the depth chart, experience, consistency and superior skills abound for the scheme. In Tudor and Holmes you have high-talent depth, and in Williams and Bigger you have the right skills in the youngsters. This spring, the story will be about refining the job roles, getting reps and polishing up for a big 2012 campaign.


  • 1. Jacobi Jenkins (SR-RS): Of all the corners coming back, Jenkins has been the one who has gone through the full progression, starting with moving over from WR his freshman year, to battling for an off again on again starting position in 2010, to playing at a high level behind senior Derek Blacknall. Mitchell believes this is the year Jenkins steps into the spotlight at one of the corner positions, most likely at field corner. Jenkins was effective last season, piling up 15 tackles and 4 PBUs while looking more and more comfortable in coverage. He will have an inside track at one of the positions but it won’t come without some serious competition.

  • 2. Leonard Paulk (SR-RS): On the boundary side, Mitchell likes what Paulk did last season while backing up perhaps the best corner ECU has ever had in Emanuel Davis. Mitchell points to the work Paulk displayed in the 2011 opener against South Carolina when he was workman-like in his coverage, vicious but disciplined in his tackling and supremely enthusiastic in his play. He has an infectious nature about him and has the makings of not only a very good boundary corner, but a leader in the unit. Expect him to bring it big time this spring.

  • 3. Kristopher Sykes (SR): Sykes really played his first real college football last season as a junior and he played himself into an opportunity to compete for a position on the depth chart this spring. Mitchell describes him as a go-getter who works hard for every opportunity he can get, big or small. A year ago, he contributed 11 tackles along with 4 PBUs and had his mitts on two real INT opportunities. That kind of player historically can catch a fiery intensity once given a chance, which could make him a special player to watch in spring camp. Look for Sykes to fall short of winning a starting role, but be sure that he will be on the depth chart come the end of spring.

  • 4. Adonis Armstrong (JR-TR): Armstrong comes in from the junior college ranks with a spectacular resume. He was a JUCO All-America with a real nose for the ball, picking off 7 passes and taking a handful of those back to the house. He is fast and a blanket-coverage specialist who is expected to battle Jenkins at the field corner position. He is a veteran-like player who, if he translates well to top level football, could be very quickly a stud on this defense.

  • 5. Detric Allen (SO-RS): After a year in the program, Allen is acclimated to the defensive scheme and the demands of the corner position. Mitchell has said that he his eager to see how this experience will translate into his performance in this camp, Allen’s second as a Pirate. A big-bodied corner who is every bit of 6-0 tall and pushing 200 pounds, he is athletic and a hard worker. Allen should push for reps and make a go of a run at a depth chart position for 2012.

  • 6. Rocco Scarfone (FR-RS): Mitchell is confident that Scarfone will help the defensive backs unit this year if in no other way, in attitude. Cut from the same cloth as stud safety Damon Magazu, Scarfone is a superior athlete with a quarterback’s IQ. He is skilled enough to work at both the boundary and field corner positions and he could play safety if needed. What Scarfone needs is on-field repetitions and he will get them this season, even if only on special teams. This spring, Scarfone’s job is to show that he can compete.

Position Analysis: Of all the positions on the defensive side of the ball, the cornerback position is the highest risk position on the team. With the departure of repeat-All-Conference USA performer Emanuel Davis and with highly capable Derek Blacknall also moving on via graduation, the positions will be manned by two first-time starters. In Jenkins and Paulk, the Pirates have two players with game experience and a start under their belts. In Armstrong, they have a big-time potential corner and then after that, it is all speculation. The spring will reveal at least where the current corners are in regards to game readiness. Jenkins, Paulk, Armstrong, and probably Sykes should be able to live up to the billing, but there are too many unknowns with the young players vying to get some notice. Watch this unit closely in the spring because opponents surely will come at them early and often come the fall.


  • 1. Justin Venable (SR-RS): Venable showed in 2011 that he is a very capable safety in backing up starter Damon Magazu. A physical and big-bodied safety, Venable is a smart player who if pressed into more reps will be able to perform. Now in his senior campaign, look for Venable to get after spring camp like a man eager to get his in his final year. That could create some very interesting scenarios in the safety unit as a top-of-his game Venable could push for a great deal of action in the fall. Expect a workman like effort from Venable in pushing Magz in camp.

  • 2. Damon Magazu (JR): Mitchell calls Magazu (Magz) the rock of the defensive backfield. Since he forced his way into the lineup late in 2010, he has done nothing but improve each week, which should not be a surprise given he is a classic student-of-the-game type of player. In 2011, the dependable safety racked up 80 tackles (2nd on the team) along with a team-leading 4 INTs, a PBU, and 3 fumble recoveries. Magazu is so dependable and smart, the safety unit is superior just for having him in it. He will continue to be the heart and soul of the unit, but this year it will be paramount that he be the leader in the back now that he is the old veteran as a junior. Magz can take another step in his development this spring by bringing along the young corners and a new strong safety.

  • 3. Godfrey Thompson (JR-TR): Thompson is a big hitting safety out of the JUCO ranks who played alongside newcomer Adonis Armstrong at the corner. Thompson plays with attitude but does so with a very refined style. He is a solid cover guy who also loves to engage in the run game. He will be expected to compete heavily for the open safety position and is game for that challenge. His spring will be about acclimating to the defense and earning the trust of his teammates in the backfield.

  • 4. Desi Brown (SO-RS): At 6-2, 200 pounds, there isn’t much not to like about what Brown brings to the safety position. He is a bruiser with a quarterback’s aptitude having run offenses for multiple high-powered high schools during his prep years. He only got limited action in 2011 but his best action came late in the season setting him up for what Mitchell believes will be a good run at the open safety position.

  • 5. Lamar Ivey (SO-RS): Rangy at 6-1, Ivey also picked up some needed game experience in 2011 and will also vie for a depth chart spot this spring. Ivey was really pushing Bradley Jacobs for the starting job early last season before he hit the freshman wall and tailed off. He should be stronger now and able to sustain his performance throughout the season. Look for him to compete hard in the spring.

Position Analysis: Having to replace a starting safety would usually be a daunting situation, but with Damon Magazu back at one of the positions, it is hard to flag the safety position as a concern. Magazu is simply a player and does it down after down. He will need to emerge as the unquestioned unit leader and if he does, expect the newbies to the depth chart to excel. Venable is a seasoned back-up for Magz. At the other safety position, it will be a battle between a talented JUCO transfer in Thompson and two young, up-and-coming safeties who know the system in Ivey and Brown. With additional secondary help coming in the fall, the spring is about maximizing reps for the guys vying for the open position to set a depth chart that will continue to evolve in the fall.


  • 1. Phil McNaughton (SR): McNaughton, the Aussie with the big leg, got his shot in 2011 filling in for Ben Ryan and his results were mixed. Consistency was a concern for him. He has a big leg, but without consistency, the punter position is only halfway won. McNaughton will get his chances to lock down the job for his final campaign.

  • 2. Trent Tignor (JR): A big-legger at 6-5 and the starting holder, Tignor pushed for the starting job a year ago and will be motivated to grab it this time around with the job up in the air. He has not had the in-game experience at punter, but he has been on the field for pressurized kicking situations as the holder, so performance under pressure should not be an issue for him. Look for Tignor to make a real run at taking the job this time around.

  • 3. Matt Millisor (JR-RS): Millisor has been in the program for three years now and has flirted with winning both the punting and place-kicking jobs. He has also filled in as the kickoff man. That said, he has yet to win either job and this year, with the job wide open, seems to be the best opportunity he has had in his career. Look for Millisor to push hard for the job, though he will mostly focus on winning the PK job.

Position Analysis: With three punters returning to vie for the vacant kicking job, the Pirates are in as good a position to put quality on the field as they could be short of having a returning starter back. McNaughton has game experience, though limited, while Millisor has come close to winning the job in the past. Tignor may have the best skillset of the group as a punter, so he will factor as well. It should be an interesting competition in the spring, but don’t expect it to be fully won until they all reconvene in the fall.

E-mail Ron Cherubini

PAGE UPDATED 03/26/12 04:01 AM.

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