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The Bradsher Beat
Saturday, August 23, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

Hudson probing linebackers' limits

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

If the thought of football coaches making British literary allusions is a bit jarring to you, then you haven’t spent much time listening to East Carolina defensive coordinator Greg Hudson hold forth about his linebacking corps.

“I told my wife, ‘It’s the Tale of Two Cities,’ ” Hudson said. “When the experienced guys are in there, it’s the best of times, and when the young guys that are really talented are in there, it’s the worst of times.”

For Hudson, the preseason has been devoted to sanding the rough edges off of those young guys – players who show considerable promise but are just a scant step ahead of the curve when it comes to learning the Pirate system.

“They’re just learning the details, and how to do little things the right way, but they’re as talented a group as we’ve had,” he said. “It’s just there’s a cutoff after about four guys: after (Pierre) Bell, Cotton, Chambliss and Nick Johnson, the experience drops. So that comes down to coaching.”

One of those younger players, redshirt freshman Melvin Patterson, has the added adjustment of moving from defensive back to linebacker during the preseason. He is anxious as any Pirate to go out and line up against an actual opponent, but Patterson said that the intensity of the late-summer workouts has definitely educated him.

“I’ve been getting a lot of reps,” Patterson said. “Coach has really been throwing us in the fire and giving us a chance to learn the playbook. I feel comfortable with the position he put us in and the role that we play on the team.

“All you can do is go as hard as you can. We’re really going hard, trying to reach that level where we’re playing like it’s Saturday every day in practice.”

All of the sweat and sore muscles during August yielded another benefit for junior Nick Johnson, he said. The coaches used grueling workouts as a megaphone to remind the players that they have farther to go than they think they do.

“We came out thinking we knew what we were doing, and we found we’re not there yet,” Johnson said. “But I think we’ve worked real hard. I think we’re almost there.”

Patterson has impressed the coaches enough to win the top depth-chart spot at outside linebacker, with senior Quentin Cotton and Johnson expected to anchor the other outside and middle linebacker slots. Jeremy Chambliss, Steve Spence and Cliff Perryman will also likely see significant playing time.

Success in building an impenetrable defense will be equal parts hard work, strategic substitutions and healthy bodies.

“I feel we’re pretty healthy,” said Cotton, who was named to the Butkus Award watch list for this season. “We’re just trying to get depth and make sure we do the little things right.”

The linchpin of the linebackers is, of course, Cotton, but he has battled various injuries in his ECU career. But Hudson has made a decision, he said: Cotton only has one senior year, and his coach aims to make it count. He’s not going to be tentative or protective with him out of concern that he might get hurt.

If he pushes Cotton to new limits, Hudson believes the rest of the unit will rise with him.

“I’m pushing him even harder," said Hudson. "I'm trying to get him to that breaking point, and let him know that there’s a level of play that he hasn’t been at yet, and there’s a level of conditioning that he hasn’t gone through yet.

"We’re trying to get him to see that you can push your body and bring out more than you thought you could.”

As he follows Cotton and other veterans and tries to push himself in his new position, Patterson is anxious to learn the unique lessons that can only come on game day. He and his teammates know that the more diverse their skills are to face off against different offenses, the more formidable they will become.

“This year, we’re going to have to be a linebacking corps that has a lot of different faces,” Patterson said. “We’re going to have to be able to play at a lot of different levels and do a lot of different things. So the coaches are really tight and straightforward with us about learning this system and being able to play at a high level.”

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08/24/2008 12:59:41 AM

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