Inside the huddle: ECU defense

Published 9:57 pm Friday, September 2, 2011

And so the 3-4 era begins, and the new-look defense could not ask for a tougher opponent to start against then the loaded Gamecocks who boast all-American candidates RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffrey.
Up front, beefed up junior NG Michael Brooks leads a young D-line that includes sophomore defensive ends Derrell Johnson and Matt Milner.
Brooks recorded 3.5 TFLs and 29 tackles in seven games last year before a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. The Pirates will count on Brooks a lot this season as the play of the nose guard in a 3-4 defense is extremely pivotal.
The linebacking corps has a lot to prove this year and is extremely young. JUCO transfer Chris Baker has impressed in camp this fall and will vie for one of the starting OLB spots with sophomore defensive end-turned linebacker Justin Dixon. Last year, Dixon was the only Pirate who could consistently get pressure as he racked up 3 sacks and 5.5 TFLs before tearing his ACL in the fourth game of the year. Dixon’s three sacks would tie Milner for the team-lead.
At the other OLB spot, senior Cliff Perryman, junior Marke Powell and freshman Maurice Falls are all athletic but unproven.
Freshman Jeremy Grove has claimed a starting inside linebacker spot, while promising sophomore Kyle Tudor (knee), if healthy, appears to have the other but will split time with junior Daniel Drake.
No matter who starts where, McNeill has said numerous times that he wants use a large rotation of players to keep his team from wearing down like it did last season.
With the tempo the offense plays at, the Pirates defense doesn’t figure to get too much rest in between possessions, making it a must that all these players contribute when they get their turn.
Out of all the units on defense, perhaps the secondary is the strongest. Three-year starting cornerback Emanuel Davis is a preseason all-conference selection and is expected to lead the group once he returns from his one-game suspension.
Hard-hitting senior strong safety Bradley Jacobs’ 80 tackles last season was the third-highest total on the team, while corner-turned-safety-turned-corner-again Derek Blacknall was right behind him with 73.
Blacknall’s move back to corner this season opens the door for sophomore Damon Magazu to take the starting free safety spot. The 5-11, 199-pounder proved he’s not afraid of the big stage last season when, in his only start of the year, clinched the Pirates’ win over N.C. State with his overtime interception.