Despite a run of three straight bowl appearances from 2012-14, fired Ruffin McNeill at the end of last season. Former Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery takes over and inherits a Pirates teams with considerable experience. The offense (4 returning starters) will be a work in progress, so a return to the postseason could rely on the defense and a strong showing in play because of schedule that features NC State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
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Previewing East Carolina’s Offense for 2016
First-year coach Scottie Montgomery wants a better balance between running and passing. If he gets it, East Carolina could reverse last year’s disappointing 5–7 finish under Ruffin McNeill. As always, the Pirates seem to have a treasure chest of skilled receivers, and they’ve got a couple of great Scotts — Anthony and Derrell — in the backfield. Former Minnesota and Rutgers quarterback Philip Nelson is the apparent starter at quarterback following Kurt Benkert’s transfer. Benkert, who was slated to start in 2015 before a knee injury ended his season, transferred out of the program in late April. Nelson started 16 games for Minnesota in 2012-13.
Likewise, Tennessee transfer Derrell Scott could be the powerful, inside-the-tackles runner Montgomery hopes to build a more physical ECU style around. Anthony Scott made a statement with a 50-yard scamper on the first play of Montgomery’s first ECU scrimmage in the spring. His speed and that of a mega-talented receiving corps should keep things more exciting in Greenville this fall as the Pirates hope to go to their fourth bowl in five seasons. All-conference Isaiah “Zay” Jones and his whopping 98 catches are back, as are two other regulars and some more guys anxious to get their hands on the pigskin, such as spring standout Terrell Green.
All-conference guard J.T. Boyd and 6'8", 341-pound tackle Brandon Smith return, as does center Christian Matau, who makes everyone better. The Pirates rushed for 50-plus yards per game more when he started last year.
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Previewing East Carolina’s Defense for 2016
New defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson has tweaked the Pirates’ 3-4 and counts on a more aggressive approach. East Carolina can pull that off thanks to what may be the American Athletic Conference’s best cornerback tandem in senior DaShaun Amos and sophomore Corey Seargent. The deep and experienced secondary also boasts returning safeties Terrell Richardson and Travon Simmons.
On the line, seniors Fred Presley and Demetri McGill are proven commodities — Presley an athletic end and McGill a run-stopper of some note. The linebackers are capable, too, particularly inside with Jordan Williams and Joe Carter, who is returning after missing all of last year with a knee injury. It will also be hard to keep Ray Tillman on the bench. Outside, Joe Allely is a returning starter on the weak side, and 6'5" Yiannis Bowden looked like the next big thing all spring after moving over to the strong side.
Previewing East Carolina’s Specialists for 2016
Davis Plowman hit 10-of-12 field goal attempts, with a career-long 45-yarder. Worth Gregory was fifth in the conference with his 43.0-yard punting average. Quay Johnson was fourth in the league with a 9.0 average on punt returns and 10th at 20.1 on kickoff returns. Wide receivers Trevon Brown and Davon Grayson will also work in the return game. Montgomery isn’t afraid to use more starters on special teams, either. In fact, count on it.
The Pirates have been to eight bowls in the last 10 years, and Montgomery inherits a program with 75 percent of its lettermen returning. Graduation left some holes, but there’s talent on the roster and a new system in place that stresses fundamentals and physicality. There are veterans up front on both sides of the ball to make the Pirates a more bruising bunch, and Montgomery & Co. saw progress in discipline, trying to reduce ECU’s 68.8 yards per game in penalties from a year ago. What everyone learned this spring was that despite that pass-happy offense Montgomery oversaw at Duke, the new coach wants a balanced attack in his first head coaching job. If Nelson proves capable, though, and with that crew of receivers, count on the footballs flying again at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.