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The Pirate Experience
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

By Kevin Monroe

Monroe, color analyst for the Pirate ISP Sports
Radio Network, was a standout defensive back
for East Carolina from 1995-99.

Bookend corners corner foes

All Rights Reserved.

When the season began, the outlook for East Carolina on the defensive side of the ball was very bright. The Pirates returned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year C.J. Wilson and seven other defensive starters.

ECU has encountered some bumps in the road along the way. There have been injuries throughout the season that forced the Pirates to play some backups that weren’t quite ready.

The two biggest injuries came to safety Levin Neal and corner Emanuel Davis. ECU gave up multiple deep passes during the time that Neal and Davis were missing. When they returned, the defense as a whole was shored up and the play of the secondary led that surge.

The catalyst behind the Pirates' good secondary play has been that of their two sophomore corners. Travis Simmons and the aforementioned Davis have been a phenomenal twosome for the Pirates.

It’s been several years since the Pirates last had two players with the talent of Simmons and Davis that have also performed well on game day. You would have to go back at least as far as Travis Williams and Kasey Ross to identify a similar dynamic duo, but those two didn’t play this well until later in their careers.

Any defensive coordinator will tell you that if you don’t have corners that you trust to handle themselves in one-on-one coverage then you can’t blitz. When you don’t have corners that you can trust, then you have to protect them over the top with safeties and underneath with linebackers.

In my opinion, cornerback is the most difficult position on the field to play. Not only are corners usually among the best athletes on the team, they also have to be tough kids with short memories. Even the best corners get beaten for touchdowns from time to time, but being able to put that out of your mind and line up for the next play is what playing the position is all about.

Some might say that wide receivers are the best athletes on the field — and they are great athletes — but corners don’t run down the field for a deep pass play and then take themselves out the next play because they are a little winded.

Receivers are getting bigger and stronger every year and it’s getting tougher for corners that usually average 5’9" to compete with the 6’5" receivers, but that is the name of the game.

I heard it said once that being a corner out there all by yourself where everyone knows when you make a mistake is like being on Gilligan’s Island without the pretty girls and all the jokes.

Each corner brings something different to the table. Travis Simmons is Mr. Dependable. Being dependable doesn’t sell tickets, but it does win ball games. At 5'10" and 177 pounds, he is tall enough to deal with most receivers and small enough to have great agility, quick feet and good hips.

When the football is thrown to Simmons' side of the field, you know that he will not only be in position to make a play on the ball, but you can be sure he will make the tackle if the ball is caught. Through 11 games, Travis is 8th on the team in tackles.

He has played in every game this season and a few of those were without starting free safety Levin Neal or his counterpart Emanuel Davis. During those games when he was playing without his comrades and in the games that they have played together, he has always shown up and played well.

Simmons' instincts and discipline are some of the best I have seen from an ECU corner in some time.

Emanuel Davis is very similar to Travis in a lot of ways. He is also super quick and very dependable. At 5’11" and 190 pounds, he is the more physical of the two corners and has had several big hits this year.

Davis is second on the team in interceptions with 2 (1 for a touchdown) and second on the team in pass breakups with 8. He is just ahead of Travis on the tackles list, ranking 7th overall with 47.

What makes Emanuel special is his fearlessness. He often toys with opposing quarterbacks and receivers with his alignment before the snap. He likes to sit on routes and take chances that might normally lead to big plays for the other team, but in his case he makes it work. His speed and instincts usually put him in the right spot.

These days it’s rare to have one corner with all the tools to be a big-time player, but the 2009 Pirates are lucky enough to have two. They are still young in their careers as sophomores, but their talent speaks for itself.

With continued tutelage from defensive backs coach Rick Smith, this tandem could become very special.

Send an e-mail message to Kevin Monroe.

Dig into Kevin Monroe's Bonesville archives.

11/25/2009 02:08:02 AM


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