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View from the 'ville
Thursday, March 18, 2010

By Al Myatt

McNeill places defense in trusted hands

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Brian Mitchell was hired as East Carolina's new defensive coordinator on Jan. 25, but the former NFL player really starts work for the Pirates on Monday.

That's when ECU begins spring practice and that's when Mitchell and the defensive coaches will really be able to get a handle on what their talent will allow them to do.

"Right now the glass is half full," Mitchell said. "We have an idea on paper who has the ability, who has a chance to help this football team win some football games. We don't know exactly what their strengths and what their weaknesses are, so, going into spring that's going to be a big time evaluation of where you want to start philosophy-wise.

"Your philosophy is always going to be based on your personnel. You can go in there with some preconceived ideas but knowing that the talent says this instead of that, you're still in limbo with that glass half full. It's just trying to get through an evaluation process as fast as you can and see what these kids can do and what they can't do."

The Pirates will have a 4-3 base alignment on defense.

"Our philosophy is always going to be running to the ball and having an attacking mentality," Mitchell said. "That effort has to be phenomenal effort. It has to be with a nastiness at the finish and of course we're going to be sound fundamentally and scheme-wise. We're going to be an attacking defense. Base needs to look like blitz and blitz needs to look like base.

"That's going to be my philosophy as long as I'm the defensive coordinator here."

Mitchell coached cornerbacks at Texas Tech the last four years. Before that he spent 11 seasons as a defensive assistant at his alma mater, Brigham Young. Mitchell was in the NFL for three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys.

It says something that McNeill, who was previously the defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, has entrusted those responsibilities to Mitchell.

"Going into my 16th year, I've been a part of some really good coaching staffs that have run multiple defenses with multiple fronts and multiple coverages," Mitchell said. "I think I've been educated very well. I've been around some very strong-minded head coaches in Mike Leach and LaVell Edwards (former BYU coach) and of course, along the way, Bronco Mendenhall (current BYU coach).

"I think all of those men have been excellent men and they've been excellent teachers. Being a part of what Coach Ruffin McNeill has done the last three years as a defensive coordinator kind of prepared me for this job because I came from a 3-3-5 scheme and then Ruff introduced the 4-3 to me. It is very similar to what (ECU) ran last year. Some of the terminology is going to be different."

Although McNeill was formerly defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, he didn't bring Mitchell along from Lubbock to be his understudy at ECU.

"It was a premeditated move to hire my coaches based on their experience and abilities," McNeill said. "Brian's a very knowledgeable and experienced coach who has the ability to relate exceptionally well with his players. He's been able to draw on his experiences as a player at BYU and in the NFL and bring those leadership qualities into the coaching profession."

McNeill expressed his confidence in the entire defensive staff. Mitchell will coach the secondary in addition to his duties as defensive coordinator. Pirates associate head coach John Wiley will work with linebackers. Special teams coordinator Mark Nelson will coach defensive ends. Former ECU player Marc Yellock will be the defensive tackles position coach.

"In basketball, you call 'em gym rats when they hang around all the time," McNeill said in explaining his new staff's work ethic. "We have a staff of fieldhouse rats. If I didn't run 'em out, they'd be here all day and all night."

McNeill said the coaches will be looking at a couple of factors in their evaluations in spring practice.

"Whoever makes the most plays, that guy will start," McNeill said. "That's an evaluation tool we will use — who's making and finishing plays. We'll also be looking at what guys have the ability to do their jobs play after play, who has the capability of doing their job with the technique taught on a consistent basis."

The Pirates lost all of their starters from the defensive front. Defensive ends C.J. Wilson and Scotty Robinson were seniors on ECU's second straight Conference USA championship team. Tackle Jeremy Chambliss was a senior and noseguard Linval Joseph opted to go pro after his junior season.

Seven of the team's top tacklers in 2009 are gone including free safety Van Eskridge, who was in on 102 tackles, linebacker Nick Johnson (99), linebacker Chris Mattocks (86), Chambliss (85), strong safety Levin Neal (62), Joseph (60 and Wilson (57).

That means a lot of new players will be playing defense for the new staff.

It appears to be a tough challenge, starting with pass-oriented Tulsa in the season opener at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 5 at 2 p.m. on ESPN.

"I won't think about Tulsa until probably June," Mitchell said. "You can't put B before A. We've got a lot of evaluating and teaching to do in the spring."

Mitchell played at BYU from 1987 to 1990 and was a seventh-round pick of the Falcons in 1991. The All-Western Athletic Conference cornerback played in four bowls while at BYU and ran the opening leg of BYU's All-American 400-meter relay team.

Mitchell still holds the BYU record for longest interception return, a 97-yarder against New Mexico in 1989. His 13 career interceptions ranks in a fifth-place tie on the school lists. His five picks in 1989 was a season high.

Mitchell's NFL experience makes him a potentially-valuable resource for Pirates with aspirations of playing at the next level.

"It's a process," Mitchell said. "They have to start preparing their bodies as soon as they get here and the mental part is as important if not more important. They need to be focused on their classes and learn as much as they can in the coaches' meetings."

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03/18/2010 02:29 AM


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