The end of winter is slowly coming and with that starts one of the most important periods of the off season: spring practice. The opportunity to practice for a short periods of time and end with scrimmage for the public brings excitement to the long off season.
Not only does it help the fans in football withdraw, spring practice is a time when coaching staffs can experiment with new players, alignments, and philosophies in order to figure out what works best for the upcoming squad. It is even more important for a coach that was hired in the off season with a goal to bring glory to the school.
With that in mind, let's take a look at five stories to watch during the 2016 East Carolina Pirates spring practice.
Kurt Benkert's Knee
The highly touted quarterback finally had his chance in 2015 when Shane Carden graduated. He won the job fairly easily after sitting as a backup in 2014. Everything was set for the surprisingly quarterback to become the next in a line of star quarterbacks at ECU.
Then, tragedy struck. Less than two weeks before the beginning of the 2015 season, Benkert injured his knee. The injury required surgery, wiping out the chance of playing last fall. Instead, he had to sit out and watch as Blake Kemp and James Summers shared time behind center.
Benkert should not go too hard on his surgically repaired knee in spring practice, if he isn't just held out completely. There is a very reasonable chance that he will be either held out or see very light duty during the spring. Even so, we should be about to tell a bit about his mobility and how much he has recovered from the injury.
Changes To The Offense
Let's compare the 2015 Duke offense under Montgomery to the 2015 ECU offense.
East Carolina had a run/pass ratio of 46:54. They ran for 133.3 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry. The Pirates passed 39 times per game for an average of 281.2 yards per game. ECU ended the season scoring 27.4 points per game.
Duke had a run/pass ratio of 48:52. The Blue Devils were much more successful running the ball with over 2,500 yards on the year. They averaged 192.9 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry on the year. Duke also passed the ball 39 times per game, averaging 246.5 yards in the air. Duke ended the season scoring 31.5 points per game.
The Pirates look to have a full stable of running backs moving forward and should emphasize the running game a bit more this fall.
A New Sheriff In Town
Scottie Montgomery has paid his dues working up the coaching ladder, but was a bit of a surprise hire for this particular job. He is replacing the beloved Ruffin McNeill as the head coach of the Pirates.
Montgomery assembled an impressive group of assistants and was able to hold onto Rick Smith in the secondary. It may take some time for this coaching staff to gel and the ECU faithful to actually know what to expect out of Montgomery at head coach. It will be nice to finally see him out front leading the Pirates in a padded practice for the first time.
The list is extensive of players that the Pirates have to replace from the 2015 senior class. Ike Harris, Quincy McKinney, and C.J. Struyk all made six or more starts on the offensive line. Tight end Bryce Williams and running back Chris Hairston will also be missed on the offensive side of the ball.
Linebackers Zeek Bigger and Montese Overton are among a group of six graduated defensive players that made six or more starts last fall. Terrell Stanley and Johnathon White are gone from the defensive line, while Josh Hawkins and Rocco Scarfone are gone from the secondary.
All hope is not lost as 17 players (not including special teams) return that made at least one start in 2015. Special teams look great with Davis Plowman and Worth Gregory both back this fall.
A New Defensive Leader
Kenwick Thompson from Vanderbilt is the new defensive coordinator for the Pirates. Last season, the Commodores were among the nation's best in rush defense (#33), red zone defense (#6), pass defense (#41), total defense (#28), scoring defense (#22).
Thompson had the help of head coach and defensive guru Derek Mason in leading one of the nation's best defenses. He inherits a defense that has experience at both safety positions and on the defensive line.
Expect to see a defense focused on stopping the run first and using safe blitzes to get off the field on third downs under Thompson. The ability to limit chunk yardage plays is also important to Thompson as Vanderbilt gave up 40 total plays of 20+ yards last fall, good for only 3.3 per game. .