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ECU News, Notes and Commentary

The Bradsher Beat
Saturday, September 10, 2005

By Bethany Bradsher

Secondary operating under new standards


There has been a lot of talk from the new East Carolina coaches about the players “buying into” their system. But spend just a minute with secondary coach Rick Smith, and you realize what a substantial purchase he is asking his athletes to make.

With the kind of credibility earned from 34 years coaching at eight different Division I schools, Smith isn’t just selling determination or even just excellence. His standard for his players is perfection.

“We’re just trying to help them understand that if you want to be successful in life, you’ve got to do everything right,” he said. “If you want to be a man, then you’re going to be treated like one. A man does what he’s supposed to do, when he’s supposed to do it, how he’s supposed to do it. And if he doesn’t he’s going to pay the price.”

If the Duke game is any indication, the safeties and cornerbacks are indeed buying in. Senior strong safety Zach Baker pulled in two interceptions, and sophomore Pierre Parker, who won the starting free safety job just two weeks ago when Jamar Flournoy was suspended for a rules violation, recorded another one. Parker and junior cornerback Kasey Ross each had three pass break-ups, and the collective effort of the defensive backfield helped ECU to its first season opening victory in five years.

The secondary was certainly one of the brightest spots in a defense that showed considerable progress over last year’s model. But when asked what makes his backfield special, Smith was quick to quench too much early-season praise.

“I don’t know if they’re special yet; they’ve only done it one time,” he said. “They’re special if they do it every week, over and over and over.”

Smith has already issued a warning to his players: It’s just going to get harder as future opponents see ECU film and identify weaknesses in Pirate coverages. Each week, the players will have to get sharper to stay ahead of that curve, he said.

By watching the Duke film, Smith was pleased with the team’s three interceptions but identified several pass break-ups that should have been interceptions, he said. He doesn’t just want to lead the turnover margin in future games: He wants to dominate it.

“I try to be fair with them on film: If you drop an interception, was it a difficult interception, or was it one that you should have made?” Smith said.

Most of the athletes listed as either first or second-string in the secondary are juniors and seniors, and the combined experience is one of the reasons that the unit is operating so efficiently. Even the juniors, players like Kasey Ross and Erode Jean, came in and contributed right away when they were freshmen, so they have plenty of game-time experience, Ross said.

“We’ve been playing since we were freshmen,” Ross said. “We’ve got a lot of experience back there.”

It’s a group with talent, too, but even the most experienced and talented player can founder without proper leadership. That’s where Smith comes in. With credentials that include defensive coordinator and secondary coach posts at LSU, Kentucky, Tulane and Cincinnati, he is pouring his nearly 35 years of coaching into teaching his secondary to do the things that winners do.

“He’s a genius,” Baker said. “I can’t tell you how much he’s made me better, how much I’ve improved just from listening to him and soaking up all his knowledge.”

Pirates in the Pros

Just after the April NFL draft, nine Pirates were listed on professional rosters. This week, with the season opener just days away, that number has been whittled down to six on active rosters and one on a practice squad.

Roderick Coleman is the only ex-Pirate with a starting job at this point, listed as the first-string defensive tackle with the Atlanta Falcons. But four different ECU products are second on their depth charts: Damane Duckett with the Giants, Brian Rimpf with the Ravens, David Garrard with the Jaguars and Jeff Blake with the Bears.

Terrance Copper is listed as third at one of the Cowboys’ wide receiver spots, behind Keyshawn Johnson and Peerless Price.

Vonta Leach, who spent most of last season on the Packers’ practice squad before being activated in late November, was cut from the team over the weekend and then re-signed for a second stint on the practice squad.

Richard Alston, who made a splash with the Browns when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his first NFL game, was cut from the team on Monday, and the Cardinals released Devone Claybrooks with an injury settlement on August 19.

Placekicker Kevin Miller, who played for the Berlin Thunder in NFL Europe as part of the Seahawks organization in the spring, was cut from the Seattle roster on August 3 and quickly returned to his other love: golf. Miller was caddying for friend and Greenville native Will MacKenzie at last weekend’s Deutsche Bank Championship PGA Tour event.

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02/23/2007 01:11:41 AM

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