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Defense rolling with change

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East Carolina cornerback Travis Phillips takes on a James Madison ball-carrier on Sept. 2 in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The East Carolina football team’s defense spent a good deal of post-practice time still on the field with new coordinator Robert Prunty on Wednesday night.

The group needs all the time together it can get.

Elevated from defensive line and associate head coach to coordinator on Sunday following the Pirates’ 56-20 loss to West Virginia, Prunty now must try to reverse the fortunes of a defense that could not find a foothold under previous coordinator Kenwick Thompson. The players have little choice but to pick up and move on, and Prunty no choice but to do what he knows.

“Based on their effort in practice, it’s been great. They run to the ball and they’re taking coaching and that’s what you want, for them to take coaching,” Prunty said, noting that he thinks the confidence of the 0-2 team is fine. “I hope it’s like mine. These last two days, they’ve definitely been up. We’ve got to keep it going.”

The goal, according to Prunty, is to simplify the defense and take the thinking out of it. He said he expects to see an immediate improvement in alignment, positioning and tackling this Saturday against Virginia Tech.

Among those rolling with the punches are two new starting cornerbacks who very much reflect the ups and downs of their team and its defense.

Seniors Travis Phillips and Chris Love already have gotten accustomed to some growing pains as first-year full-time starters. They have taken their lumps, but Love thinks this is the beginning of something good despite the team’s dreadful start.

“Everybody’s focused and I think everybody knows what’s on the line here,” said Love, a former walk-on from Wake Forest, who added that becoming a starter at ECU is only another part of his football journey. “We’ve got to pick some things up and we don’t have much to lose at this time so everybody’s kind of coaching and playing with their hair on fire. I think everybody’s gradually getting closer to each other, and that means a lot because I think the chemistry is really getting there.”

For Phillips, the chance to be a starter in the ECU secondary is one he has waited for, but he shares with Love a blend of experience, athleticism and belief that has carried him to the top of the depth chart.

“I just had to put in the work and watch a lot more film just to make sure I was ready,” said Phillips, a Montpelier, Va., native. “I had to prep more than I usually have in past years, and it all paid off. I just had to focus more on ball and not get distracted by things on the outside.”

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

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