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Special teams Saturday at ECU

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East Carolina's Juwan Moody, left, looks to break free on a kick return during Satuday's scrimmage at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. August 18, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Quality special teams play was on display Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for East Carolina’s annual preseason scrimmage focused on situational football.

The work on special teams and the offense being put in specific down-and-distance situations was a sign that the Pirates’ season opener Sept. 1 against North Carolina A&T is getting closer. The modified scrimmage allowed for coaches to see how players would react to game-like scenarios, and third-year head man Scottie Montgomery said special teams did much better than in ECU’s first scrimmage.

“I actually opened my postgame speech to the team with I thought special teams today was the best day that we’ve had,” Montgomery said. “It was clean and our substitutions were correct, and I threw some curveballs at them where they didn’t know that they were going to kick.

“That got everybody off balance a little bit, but we came in there with a two-minute drill to win it. That was impressive, and I thought our kickoff and kickoff return units did a good job today.”

On kickoffs and punts is when offensive and defensive players often mix for special teams plays.

Much like the Pirate defense under new coordinator David Blackwell, ECU is looking to improve on troublesome statistics from a year ago and 1973 ECU graduate Kirk Doll returned in January to serve as special teams coordinator.

Senior big-play receiver Trevon Brown is back as a kick returner, along with veteran cornerbacks Colby Gore and Corey Seargent. Shifty freshman receiver Juwon Moody from Conway, S.C., also is getting work as a return specialist.

“Special teams plays a big part in the game of football,” said starting inside linebacker Bruce Bivens, who also is on the kickoff coverage unit. “It gives the offense and the defense a chance to come together. It can make a big impact in a game.”

Jake Verity is the team’s returning starting kicker and the starting punter will likely be West Virginia transfer Jonn Young.

Reid Herring continues to solidify his standing as the No. 1 quarterback ahead of freshmen Holton Ahlers and Kingsley Ifedi, which Montgomery confirmed after the scrimmage.

Herring finished 10-of-22 for 190 yards and two touchdowns, including a 25-yarder to lunging Blake Proehl in the end zone. Kingsley Ifedi (6-11, 67 yards) had the other TD toss, and Ahlers was 3-of-9 for 15 yards.

“I can absolute tell that I have a quarterback who has spent two years in my back pocket with me,” offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said of the sophomore Herring, who redshirted in 2016 before serving as a backup a year ago but throwing only one pass in a game. “It’s not having a guy transfer or coming in from here or me coming in and having to coach a guy for the very first year. I have a guy who has been in my hip pocket for a few years, and that makes a huge difference.”

Herring said the various ball placements on the field Saturday led to him getting good looks at the Pirate defense, which was led by Ray Tillman and Michael Witherspoon with four tackles each. Safety Myles Berry and defensive end Kendall Futrell recorded sacks.

“It definitely helped for game situations and it also kind of slowed down the tempo a little bit,” Herring said. “You get to see what the defense is doing a little bit more, so you just have to be able to make the right reads.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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