Football is officially back at East Carolina University. The first day of fall camp on Friday signaled the wait has finally ended for fans and marks the beginning of the long trek to the start of the season.
The Pirates and third-year head coach Scottie Montgomery opened up fall camp Friday and the first day featured more progress in a much needed area, which is the rebirth of the ECU defense. It started with the hiring of new defensive coordinator David Blackwell, after the 2017 defense was one of the worst in the nation.
"I think we are way ahead of where we were to start spring ball, which is a good thing and is something you would expect," Blackwell, an ECU graduate who was a finalist for the FCS Defensive Coordinator-of-the-Year honor in 2015 and 2016, said to ecupirates.com. "We've had a good summer. We put heavy install in today, which in the last six years is probably the most I've installed on day one, honestly, and I thought our guys did a really nice job with it."
The progress of the defense has been noticed by and backed up by several of the players as well, including sophomore linebacker Aaron Ramseur, who is one of the seven returning starters from last season’s defense. Ramseur was the Pirates’ fourth leading tackler as he finished with 57 tackles, with 56 of those coming in the last 56 games. Ramseur also finished with two interceptions on the season.
Ramseur played in all 12 games and started six of them. Ramseur said the speed was the most notable aspect of the defense that was different as the Pirates started fall camp.
"We have almost the whole defense, including linemen, running under a 4.6 in the 40; together as a starting defense we average a 4.56," Ramseur said to ecupirates.com. "Everybody is so much faster this year, and you could see it in practice today. Everybody's moving fast. Of course, we don't have pads on, but it's not a big difference with the pads on. Physically and mentally, everybody's just getting it done."
Both Ramseur and Blackwell said the defense did a good job handling the heavy install and players knew the plays and did not miss many assignments for the most part. Junior running back Hussein Howe, who led ECU in rushing yards last season, said he rarely saw any missed assignments on the day.
The handling of the plays and the speed of the defense were apparent to Howe, who said “The defense was on point, and we were just out there flying around.”
When talking about what stood out to him most on Friday, it was the quarterback group, which consists of Reid Herring, Holton Ahlers and Kingsley Ifedi. Montgomery said the Pirate quarterbacks were further along than he expected, and all three of them could “go out and play college football right now.”
While rain caused practice to be moved up in the day, Montgomery said he was glad players got thrown a curveball as it did not keep players from being intense. There was a positive vibe throughout the practice, a vibe Montgomery refers to as “juice.” According to Montgomery, bringing that intensity on the first day was the easy part, especially after being gifted with a new locker room, which Montgomery boasted as one of the best facilities in the American Athletic Conference. The challenge, Montgomery said, comes in bringing that intensity back every day.
"It's always a great energy level the first day," Montgomery said. "The challenge is, how do we maintain the energy level that we have? Of course we were going to have a great productive day today since we just went into one of the most beautiful facilities in the conference. My challenge for our coaches and for our players right now is trying to figure out a way to bring back all that energy tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and so on."
Montgomery said they are a lot further along than expected at this point after the first day. Whether or not the defense can begin to redeem itself from last season or whether or not the players and coaches come back every day with the intensity they had on the first day is yet to be seen. Fans will begin to find that out when ECU reaches the big day fans will have to wait a little longer for, which is its season opener against North Carolina A&T on September 1 inside of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Fans should be content with ECU football being officially back, at least for now.