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Crucial ECU spring practice is here

East Carolina South Carolina Football-7
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East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery communicates with his coaching staff during the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 20, 2017

A team still feeling the sting of a 3-9 football season already knows the only way to go is up, and East Carolina will be back on the gridiron today to keep climbing.

Second-year coach Scottie Montgomery had to retool his staff this offseason after seeing three assistants leave, and with the onset of spring practice this afternoon, immediate position battles across the roster will put the Pirate coaches to the test long before any opponents will. Those battles will wage at every position, quarterback included.

The Pirates won their first two games under Montgomery, but saw the 2016 season come unglued after that, beating a hapless Connecticut team for their only other victory.

The team at times exemplified all of the game’s telltale fatal flaws. The Pirates turned the ball over for stretches and simply could not finish drives at others on offense, and on defense they were burned for big plays on some nights, failed to make tackles on others and scarcely pressured opposing quarterbacks all season.

Potential fixes are already here in some cases, and Montgomery will begin putting his new blueprint into action at once leading up to the April 22 Purple-Gold game.

Offense

With injuries and inconsistency from starter Philip Nelson last season, it was sophomore transfer Garnder Minshew’s job under center by season’s end, and he returns today in hopes of landing the job on a more permanent basis. Minshew (1,347 yards, eight touchdowns last season) will see a serious challenge from redshirt freshman Reid Herring and true freshman Kingsley Ifedi.

A crew of four running backs will begin jostling to become the primary ball-carrier, led potentially by senior Anthony Scott (384 rush yds., two TDs), whose fumble woes from last season cost him his job. He is joined by fellow rising senior Devin Anderson (258-2) and yet unproven junior Derrell Scott and sophomore Hussein Howe.

All-time NCAA-leading receiver Zay Jones is gone, but two of his former teammates are back for one last campaign and could be the Pirates’ offensive focal points. Injury kept Davon Grayson out for all of 2016 and he also played as a true freshman to keep his eligibility alive, while Jimmy Williams (45 receptions, 818 yds., eight TDs) was granted an additional year due to his injury-shortened freshman year.

If Trevon Brown, who was ruled out academically last season, can also return, and ECU gets continued growth from senior Quay Johnson (58-563-3) and sophomore Deondre Farrier (21-305-1), the Pirates will again be powerful in the pass game.

On the line, senior tackle Brandon Smith is the true mainstay, but juniors Garrett McGhin and Messiah Rice are now veterans too. That ramps up the spring pressure on the likes of promising redshirt freshman Sean Bailey and sophomores Cortez Herrin and D’Ante Smith. Also in camp is recent junior college transfer Dqmarcus Shaw.

Defense

The defensive line will see the return of senior ends Demage Bailey and Kiante Anderson, and junior Yiannis Bowden (42 tackles, team-high 7.5 tackles for loss) and sophomore Kendall Futrell will continue to fill the hybrid end/linebacker role. Experience is also back on the inside in senior Mike Myers and junior Justin Brown, and the future of players like sophomores Jalen Price and Alex Turner could take shape this spring.

Returning leading tackler Jordan Williams (77 tackles) is back at inside linebacker along with fellow senior Ray Tillman and junior Joe Carter.

At the back end, the returning cornerback tandem of junior Corey Seargent (27 tackles, six pass breakups) and sophomore Colby Gore (43 tackles, two interceptions) is intact, but now under new position coach Brandon Lynch. At safety, a pair of seniors in Travon Simmons (53 tackles, INT) and Bobby Fulp (32 tackles, INT) are the anchors, but Auburn transfer Tim Irvin could also challenge for a starting job.

With kicker Davis Plowman and punter Worth Gregory now gone, even those positions are up for grabs, though sophomore Jake Verity will almost certainly factor into one or the other roles with junior Caleb Pratt also in the competitions.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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