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Young offensive line regroups

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East Carolina offensive lineman D'Ante Smith works during practice on Aug. 30, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The list of things that did not go as planned for East Carolina football in its disastrous season opener against James Madison was lengthy.

Somewhere near the top, though, was the play of an offensive line which underwent some serious adjustments in the offseason, including thrusting a pair of lightly used sophomores into starting roles on the left side. There were serious issues in getting the ball snapped properly for junior first-time center Garrett McGhin, creating a recipe for JMU pressure and a lackluster at best rushing performance from the Pirates.

“I saw really low execution by us and I have no explanation for it,” ECU offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said of his entire unit. “I would have bet a lot of money that we would have played better than that, but we did a poor job of playing out there and executing and we did a poor job of coaching and we’ve got to get it fixed this week.”

In addition to McGhin’s struggles — he was replaced by true freshman John Spellacy during the JMU loss, and Spellacy continued getting reps this week — it was a long night for left tackle D’Ante Smith and left guard Cortez Herrin.

Although both were groomed for such a moment, both admitted to being caught up in the atmosphere on opening night as first-time starters.

“We had a few guys that played a lot lower than what we thought, and we’ve got to go back to base fundamentals,” Petersen said of the Pirates, who also failed to get new running back Tyshon Dye any significant reps. “They knew who they had (on blocks) but their fundamentals were just really poor on some plays.”

Second-year head coach Scottie Montgomery also noted the first-game struggles of his young line following Tuesday’s practice, but seemed upbeat about the process.

“They responded to the teaching. I think that’s the biggest part of it,” Montgomery said. “The thing they came and said to us was exactly that, that they were out there for the first time. And it wasn’t an excuse and they told us it wasn’t an excuse and I don’t see it as an excuse.”

Petersen revealed that not only will Dye get way more involved this week at West Virginia, but that the Clemson graduate transfer might get a majority of the carries along with freshman Darius Pinnix, seemingly leaving opening-day starter Derrell Scott looking for his share again.

“Tyshon’s going to be in there, (Pinnix) is going to be in there and after that, we’ll mix the other guys in, but Tyshon is probably going to be the biggest difference in this game from the last game,” Petersen said.

Smith’s growth

As Smith works to become the team’s future mainstay at left tackle, he has already undergone a substantial physical transformation to get ready.

The Grovetown, Ga., native is listed at 6-foot-4, 336 pounds, but how he got there was not simple.

“A lot has changed physically, and I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Smith said, noting that he has gained about 20 pounds back since initially coming to ECU bigger. “I was a lot heavier when I got here and lost a lot of weight. But I transformed my body into more of a Division I football player’s body. Mentally, I’ve grown also. It’s not just knowing how to hit somebody, but knowing the rules and how the game works and why I do what I do.”

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

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