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Pirates aim for execution in spring

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The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 20, 2017

Scottie Montgomery laid out East Carolina’s shortcomings from last football season on Monday as a means for detailing how he intends for things to be different this season.

The ECU head coach met with media members before guiding his team through its first spring practice later in the day.

Montgomery, whose team went 3-9 in his first campaign in Greenville, said he sees the onset of spring drills as “15 opportunities to go out and compete,” and that he expects his team to treat spring sessions like they would games.

While his rookie spring practice with the Pirates was geared toward discipline and conditioning, Montgomery said his sophomore spring running the team is about execution across the board.

“I’m expecting our coaches to create situations through drill work that will improve our ability to execute the smallest of details,” Montgomery said.

The coach detailed the problems, namely fumbles and tipped balls, an inability to protect the quarterback and a failure to run the ball consistently on offense. On defense, it was big plays and poor tackling.

The former NFL player and assistant coach, oddly enough, conjured the image of Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary when talking about what he is changing on his offense.

“If you remember anything about him, it’s seeing his eyes,” Montgomery said of the former Chicago Bears star. “At the snap of the ball, his eyes were always where they were supposed to be, but they were so big — they were like 50-cent pieces — because he was not only reading his keys but he also had a tremendous amount of awareness. The reason why we put so many balls on the ground in certain situations or tipped the ball up in the air was simple. A lot of it had to do with awareness and vision.”

A big part of improving on that field vision, Montgomery said, is recognizing the extra, often unseen defender he calls the “thief” on a given play who arrives late and creates a turnover. He said similar limited vision has also affected receivers on big plays and quarterbacks making the right reads and throws.

He also said his QBs this season must be quicker in their release, saying protecting the passer is the job of the passer as much as it is the offensive line and the running backs on the field.

Defensively, the ECU head coach said similar drill work this spring will specifically address the big pass plays allowed and the recurring spells of missed tackles.

Gardner’s gig

Montgomery did not mince words when asked about the quarterback competition this spring: There isn’t one.

The head coach said the job already belongs to junior Gardner Minshew, who took over at the end of last season for injured starter Philip Nelson. Understandably, Minshew was relieved and encouraged to get the nod from his coach so early.

“It feels great and it’s something that I’ve tried to earn since I’ve been here,” said Minshew, who transferred to ECU from Northwest Mississippi Community College and threw for 1,347 yards and eight touchdowns in seven appearances last season. “To have his confidence and the confidence of the team, it means so much to me.”

Roster news

Junior wide receiver Trevon Brown, a proven game-breaker who sat out all of last season after being academically disqualified, was not in practice Monday, and while Montgomery did not comment specifically about the player’s status, he intimated in his news conference that Brown could be back.

Speaking of Brown and senior WR Davon Grayson, who missed the season with an injury, Montgomery said, “If things continue to go in the direction that they’re going and they’re back ... the sky is the limit for that group.”

The coach also suggested the team had identified the running back that could give the Pirates the physical style they lacked in the run game last season. He didn’t name the player, saying he didn’t want to give him credit too quickly, but added that he expected to see results within the first three or four practices.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-320-2134 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.