TAKE ON PIRATE SPORTS
August 9, 2011
Defensive optimism makes a comeback
(ECU SID images)
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Two key changes have the
potential to transform East Carolina's defense into a more formidable
force in 2011.
First, Jeff Connors' hand
on the program will pay immediate dividends.
One player told me on
media day that Connors was his 'best friend’. Another told me that he
looked forward to each and every workout. I thought they were kidding.
But both players said they know that if they can survive the workouts,
they’ll be that much bigger, stronger and faster. They say Connors is
tough, but that they know he’s ultimately in their corner.
Connors told me to start
the summer that he was a little concerned with some of his defensive
linemen. Without naming names, he said a couple were really out of shape
and he questioned their work ethics.
Last week he smiled when I
asked about those defensive linemen. All he told me this time is that
they had worked really hard, and that they had done well.
Justin Dixon was certainly
singing Connors' praises.
“He’s got my knee feeling
like a brand new knee,” said Dixon, whose injury was part of a series of
defensive injuries that ripped the squad apart last season. “The sand
pits and stadium runs really helped. He’s really helped my knee out.”
Dixon added that he’s not
the only player benefitting from Connors' return.
“We all look good,” Dixon
said. “We are definitely stronger on the defensive side. The defense
looks good. This defense can be real good if we’ll just listen to the
Brian Mitchell is also certainly in Connors' corner.
“We are stronger, quicker
and faster on defense,” said Mitchell. “Our kids fought through a
grueling, summer workout campaign with Coach Connors and came out
smelling like roses. I am giddy as we start camp. The kids are so
excited to get started and they can’t wait until we get back to playing
good defense at East Carolina.”
The switch to the 3-4 will
also prove to be beneficial.
Defensive linemen are some
of the hardest athletes to recruit. A really good defensive lineman can
usually write his own ticket.
The Pirate coaches feel
they have more “linebacker types” in house and that they have access to
recruit even more.
Head Coach Ruffin McNeill
has spent most of his career working with the 3-4. It was an easy sell
“It gives us more
unpredictability,” said Mitchell. “It gives us an opportunity to get
more guys out on the field that can make plays in space. It gives us
another athletic player on the field. I think it’s going to fit our
personnel very well.”
The coaches can coach but
it’s the players that have to take responsibility and ownership into
what goes on with the defense. Dixon is thrilled to be back, and says
the squad certainly has developed a bit of a nasty disposition.
“Got to play with a little
chip on your shoulder and we certainly have something to prove,” Dixon
added. “That’s the kind of attitude we’ve got to have, to think back to
last year. We have something to prove. We have to practice just like
it’s a game. We have to take the ball away, force fumbles and stop
Mitchell says this team
will turn things around and the improvement will show from game one.
“I’m very confident that
the way we are putting in the scheme ... that we are fundamentally
getting better every day,” said Mitchell. “We did that this spring and I
think that will continue in camp. We’ll be ready when we open the
They’ll have to be ready,
facing one of East Carolina's toughest challenges on the 2011 slate
against South Carolina in Charlotte.
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