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ECU has game-changers at safety

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Damon Magazu, left, talks with Tim Irwin during practice Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2017.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another couple of hours in the books on Wednesday morning for the East Carolina football team meant another day of defensive intensity for a group bent on reversing last season’s losing record.

Head coach Scottie Montgomery continued working with a unique mix of old and new, and perhaps no position group reflects that more than safety, where two transfers continued to be the talk of August despite continued strong play by the two veterans at the same positions.

Montgomery calls former Auburn transfer Tim Irvin his eraser, a fitting nickname for a player who has a gift for getting anywhere he needs to on a given play, including crashing opponent running games. He is being complemented now by Clemson grad transfer Korrin Wiggins, a natural free safety who also is a space-eater who can adjust on the fly and make big plays.

The play of that duo could mean adjusted roles for seniors Bobby Fulp and Travon Simmons, who enter their final seasons with 30 combined starts in the secondary.

“We’re doing things to block (the offense), and we’re finally able to see our defensive secondary make plays on the football, around the football,” Montgomery said. “The combination of the pass rush and the defensive secondary is really helping us. With all the added talent, the added competition, it’s making us a better program.”

The second-year coach raved about Irvin’s adjustment to pick up a receiver quickly when a linebacker left his post on a play to rush the quarterback.

Those are the often unseen skills that make Irvin a suddenly vital member of the defense and a potential star in the team’s new 4-2-5 scheme.

“Tim is 22 yards deep and all of a sudden he’s 14 yards deep covering the corner route,” Montgomery said. “He gives us the ability to erase some of the issues that we had before, and then in the run game he’s such a force and when he comes down in there, he’s bringing everything he has every time. Because of that, we can be aggressive and put him aggressively in the run fits, but also in the middle of the field, he erases a lot of our issues.”

For Irvin, it all comes natural. The Miami native said he loves the contact and the aggressive nature of his position, and his intimidating presence might have played a role when he made a key pass breakup during Wednesday’s workout.

“The intensity is always up,” Irvin said of his style of play, noting that there is a strong bond on the team despite so many new faces. “I’m a guy that always likes to attack and come down hill. When we come out here on offense and defense, we attack each other, then go to the locker room and have fun and talk about it.”

Wiggins is having fun now too, and is also being noticed by his coach.

The younger brother of former ECU wide receiver Reece Wiggins, the safety gives the Pirates much greater flexibility with his own ability to cover ground.

“With Korrin coming on, he covers a lot more space than anybody that we have,” Montgomery said. “Tim is the eraser, and Korrin is the guy that can sit right in the middle of the field and go both ways. When you have a guy that can go cover both hashes on each side of the field, it takes a lot of stress off our linebackers and our nickels, and those seams that we had a lot of problems with last year because we’ve got a guy that can get off the hash both ways.”

“I just like roaming around back there and playing hard,” Wiggins said, noting that the nickel secondary the Pirates have adopted is similar to what he played with the national champion Tigers. “I played a lot of nickel at Clemson, so I’m pretty used to a secondary like this. I like to come up and fill holes (in the run), I like to cover, everything.”

Overseeing the promising, athletic mesh of old and new in the backfield is defensive backs coach Brandon Lynch, who played at Middle Tennessee and later with the Titans and Colts in the NFL.

Although still early, Lynch said he thinks all four of his safeties are playing at a high level, and agreed that the mix of players has created a different vibe.

“All four of them, they’re all doing some really good things,” Lynch said. “They’re tackling guys in space, they’re making good decisions and they’re getting us aligned. No matter what our different backgrounds are, they know that we’re coming together for a common goal, and that is to develop fundamentally and win the American Athletic Conference.”

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

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