After back-to-back 3-9 finishes, East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery desperately needs to show some progress this season. The downturn in football fortunes has already cost athletic director Jeff Compher his job.
Previewing East Carolina Football's Offense for 2018
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The Pirates' ship sank again last year, as Montgomery's offense was unable to bail out a porous defense. Now a new QB, Reid Herring, steps in as the Pirates hope for a return to their formerly high-scoring ways. Herring has all of two games under his belt and replaces Gardner Minshew, who left East Carolina after helping account for 317.9 passing yards per game and is now at Washington State.
Herring completed his one collegiate pass for a touchdown, and he impressed this spring with his command of the offense, his ability to make plays downfield and his judiciousness in hanging onto the pigskin. That wasn't a Pirate strong point in 2017, as ECU ranked 120th nationally in turnover margin. If Herring falters, blue-chip freshman and hometown hero Holton Ahlers looks special. He makes plays with his feet until he can make more with his arm.
A handful of former Pirate pass catchers are collecting NFL paychecks, and it's still Wide Receiver U in Greenville with the return of dangerous Trevon Brown (60 receptions for 1,069 yards and seven scores). He's big and fast and NFL-bound, too. Deondre Farrier and Tahj Deans can also make plays.
Tight end Anthony Watley looks primed for a career year, and Garrett McGhin, D'Ante Smith and John Spellacy also return up front. The backfield has some experience and depth, highlighted by junior Hussein Howe, who led the Pirates with 419 yards and a 4.4 per-carry average. There's certainly room for improvement for the AAC's worst running attack (107.7 ypg).
Previewing East Carolina Football's Defense for 2018
ECU alum David Blackwell is back to take over one of the nation's worst defenses. The Pirates finished last in FBS in allowing 45.0 points and 541.7 yards per game. Their 11 sacks were the second fewest in the country. Blackwell comes in from FCS Jacksonville State, where his squad led the nation in completion percentage allowed (50.2) and ranked second in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.0).
Blackwell has three players who started at least four games back up front, including future star Kendall Futrell at the stand-up Bandit end. Coaches believe Alex Turner is headed for All-AAC honors. There's experience and depth here and at linebacker, where prototype middle man Bruce Bivens and emerging leader Aaron Ramseur are on an upward arc as well.
Seniors Corey Seargent and Marcus Holton headline a talented young secondary ready to make more plays in what should be a much-improved defense.
Previewing East Carolina Football's Specialists for 2018
Junior Jake Verity hit 9-of-11 field goals inside 40 yards, and he seems to have an edge over kickoff specialist Caleb Pratt to handle both the placekicking and punting jobs. Montgomery brought back special teams coach Kirk Doll, who was a key part of Ruffin McNeill's staff when ECU went to three bowls in four years.
Montgomery has five new coaches on staff this year, but Blackwell is the most important of those changes, charged with salvaging a defense that was often defenseless last year. There's some young talent among the sophomores and redshirt freshmen that can up the ante -- on both sides of the ball -- for the Pirates, who might finally have some wind in their sails again.