The East Carolina Pirates recently held their first full contact practice of the spring on Saturday. The first of 12 full contact practices during the spring saw the new coaching staff stress tempo and an aggressive defense.
Tempo was key to head coach Scottie Montgomery on offense while at Duke. The Blue Devils were not as talented as some other ACC schools, but used a variation of tempo throughout games to stymie defenses and get Duke bowl eligible.
At East Carolina, the offense should have no trouble running at a quick pace under Montgomery. They ran a little over 73 offensive plays per game in the 2015 season under Ruffin McNeill. Expect to see that pace pick up slightly as the spring rolls on.
The other emphasis clear from Montgomery and company is putting the defense in position to force more turnovers in 2016. The Pirates finished last season with a -3 turnover margin, forcing 16 turnovers (eight fumble recoveries, eight interceptions) while turning the ball over 19 times (12 interceptions, seven lost fumbles).
Of the eight fumble recoveries in 2015, none were returned for any yardage. Two interceptions were returned for scored as Josh Hawkins and DaShawn Benton both had pick sixes. The ECU coaching staff would like to improve that number, as well as improve the overall turnover margin.
There has already been a significant amount of defensive pressure in the early moments of spring practice with the secondary picking off three passes and forcing a fumble during team drills.
With a schedule that includes 2015 bowl teams North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Navy, Cincinnati, Tulsa, Connecticut, and Temple, getting the defense off he field and putting the offense in positive situations is very important.
In other news, there are several important players that will no be able to compete in spring practice due to a series of injuries. Linebackers Devaris Brunson and Drayvon Fairley are recovering from knee injuries and will sit out. Defensive backs Bobby Fulp and Travon Simmons, as well as star wide receiver Isaiah Jones are recovering from shoulder injuries.
Linebacker Dayon Pratt is getting over a back injury and will also sit out the spring period.
One name that is missing from the list is quarterback Kurt Benkert. The projected starter is coming off of a knee injury sustained right before the 2015 season started, but has looked like his old self in early drills. He has shown off his rifle arm and his running ability and looks like he will easily be 100% this fall, barring another freak injury.
Expect Benkert to stabilize an ECU passing game that struggled to execute explosive plays at a very high rate.
Running back Marquez Grayson and offensive lineman Darius Anderson were removed from the roster and are no longer on the team. The loss of Grayson hurts more, but there are several running backs in the stable ready to pick up the load this spring.
The Pirates will practice today (March 21) and Wednesday before taking a week off during the Easter weekend to finish spring ball in April. The annual Purple-Gold Game is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on April 16.