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Experienced Defense Hopes To Lift East Carolina To AAC Title

With a defense that only has one freshman on the depth chart, the Pirates have one of the most experienced and talented defenses in the AAC. If the defense can continue to stop the run and get just a little better versus the pass, East Carolina could have one of the elite defenses in all of college football.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The East Carolina Pirates are coming off of a disappointing season to their standards in which they thought a chance at the American Athletic Conference title was within reach. While a series of bad luck and poor play kept those goals from being accomplished, the defense was not the reason for a poor record last fall.

The Pirates had the nation's #37 ranked defense (367.3 ypg.), #11 rush defense (111.8 ypg.), #13 third down defense (34.2%), and #53 scoring defense (25.8 ppg.). The red zone defense was 80th nationally but that statistic can be skewed by several factors like field goal accuracy and willingness to attempt fourth down conversions. The only worrisome defensive category for the Pirates in 2014 was the inability to stop the passing game. East Carolina had the 98th ranked pass defense in giving up 255.5 yards per game in the air. Much of that was due to a pass rush that only sacked the quarterback 1.62 times per game for a total of 21 on the season. An improved pass rush should help that number and put East Carolina in the top level of FBS defenses.

The defensive line gets a huge help this fall with the return of defensive end Terrell Stanley. The senior lost the 2014 season due to car accident and should be able to wreck havoc this fall. His backup, Fred Presley, will be able to give the Pirates a great 1-2 punch at that spot. Junior Demetri McGill will man the nose tackle position with sophomore Demage Bailey as the backup. Neither is game experienced but are large men that can hold up the line of scrimmage. At the other defensive end spot is senior Johnathon White and backup K’Hadree Hooker.

Linebacker is the biggest strength for East Carolina in 2015 with a talent corps led by senior Zeek Bigger. The tackling machine has 23 career starts and has been named to several preseason watch lists. Junior Cam White is his backup and will see most of his playing time on special teams. SAM linebacker Montese Overton made all 13 starts last fall and leads all returning players with 11.5 tackles for loss last fall. Sophomore Pat Green will be his understudy. At the BUCK spot, sophomore Jordan Williams (5 tkl) leads the way but Ray Tillman and Devaris Brunson will also see playing time. Brunson is coming off of a knee injury that limited him to two games last season. At the WILL position, sophomore Joe Allely should look even better with more playing time and help take pressure off of Bigger and Overton. Junior Reece Speight will be the backup.

The secondary is led by senior cornerback Josh Hawkins. The 5-10 senior has made 18 career starts and led the team with five interceptions in 2014. True freshman Corey Seargent has impressed enough to earn the backup role. Strong safety Terrell Richardson made two starts last fall and must step up to a starting role this fall with junior DaShawn Benton also expected to see playing time in the secondary. Free safety Domonique Lennon (65 tkl) made 12 starts last fall and was solid but must prove he is as good versus the pass as he is versus the run. Sophomore Travon Simmons is a solid backup that started the Birmignham Bowl in 2014. At the other cornerback spot is senior Rocco Scarfone. Scarfone made one start and played in all 13 games last season. Junior DaShaun Amos is his backup and may even start some of the season as well in a true 1A/1B situation.