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ECU defense gets it done in scrimmage

This WDN file photo shows East Carolina OLB Derrell Johnson (56) pressuring quarterback Brad Wornick (9). On Saturday Johnson dominated the Pirates first scrimmage of the summer as he tallied three tackles and three sacks. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

 

GREENVILLE — My how things have changed. It wasn’t so long ago that depth along the defensive line was a major concern for East Carolina but after watching the first scrimmage of the summer on Saturday Pirates’ third-year defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell beamed about this year’s crop up front.
“We have excellent depth there,” Mitchell said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to move some guys around because of some events this summer but I feel pretty confident that (defensive line coach) Mark (Yellock) is going to get those guys ready. “
The defense looked ready on Saturday as it racked up seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss while allowing only one touchdown during the 48-play scrimmage.
Sophomore walk-on OLB Darian Harris led the Pirates with five tackles and a sack, while four players recorded three stops each.
Former DE turned outside linebacker Derrell Johnson dominated at his new position as the junior talked three tackles and three sacks on Saturday.
“I’m loving it,” Johnson said of his position change. “I get to use my speed and my strength on the edge. It’s really fun.”
It wasn’t as much for the offense as the quarterback quartet of Brad Wornick, Rio Johnson, Shane Carden and Cody Keith combined to hit on 13 of their 26 pass attempts for a total of 199 yards and one TD.
After the scrimmage, McNeill felt pleased with the effort of both his offense and defense.
“Both sides executed well,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “Our defense made some plays and I saw our offense do a good job of moving the football.”
The four QBs took the field with the goal of earning the No. 1 spot but at the very least not wanted to be the first man eliminated from the battle.
Johnson, a junior led all passers by going 5-9 for 73 yards and threw the only TD pass of the day, a 12-yarder to Justin Jones. Carden, a sophomore connected on two of his five attempts for 70 yards, while the senior Wornick went 5-7 for 44 yards and Keith, a redshirt freshman finished 1-5 for 10 yards. No ECU QB turned the ball over.
At the end neither of the scrimmage neither McNeill nor offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley would declare a leader of the quarterback competition but Riley did say that he needs to drop someone from the race soon.
“We’re going to reevaluate (the scrimmage). We know we have to get it down to three pretty quickly,” Riley said. “It’s going to be a tough decision. The way they’re stat-ing out right now they’re all making a lot of plays. It’s going to be tough.”
Declaring a winner in the running back battle might be just as difficult as the Pirates ground game never got of the ground on Saturday as the ECU rushers ran the ball 14 times for a mere 20 yards.
Junior RB Michael Dobson gained 12 yards on four attempts to lead ECU while Keith, the QB was the team’s next highest rusher with 10 yards on two attemps.
Dobson has drawn a lot of praise from Riley this summer for his maturity and focus and on Saturday the 6-1, 185-pound RB said the ever-ticking clock has inspired his new approach.
“I’m just getting older, man,” Dobson said. “I’m just getting older and I’ve realized that my time is winding down. I got this year and next year left so it’s time to get down to business in the classroom and on the field.”
Recovering from a knee injury sustained last year, sophomore WR Danny Webster made a strong impression as he caught two passes for 70 yards, while Andrew Bodenheimer had three receptions for 20 yards and Jones caught two passes for 24 yards and a score.
After losing three of its four starters in the secondary from a year ago, the Pirates’ defensive backfield is a bit of an unknown heading into the season but on Saturday Mitchell felt pleased with the unit’s performance despite the fact that it played without key contributing corners Leonard Paulk and Jacobi Jenkins who were withheld for precautionary reason.
“I thought my young guys did a great job,” Mitchell said. “A couple of redshirt freshmen Josh Hawkins and Rocco Scarfone really had a good day today and a great camp. Some of our older guys are nursing some injuries but they will be back.”
“Adonis Armstrong has proven to be exactly what we want him to be and what we need him to be and that’s a lockdown cornerback. … I thought our Kat safety Godfrey Thompson did some really good things today as well as Lamar Ivey and Desi Brown.”
The Pirates were without some key participants on Saturday as  the following were sidelined due to injuries: OL Jordan Davis (back), OLB Jacob Geary (left leg), ILB Jeremy Grove (left leg), OL Taylor Hudson (left hand), DE Matt Milner (left foot), OLB Montese Overton (concussion), RB/IWR Zico Pasut (concussion), CB Leonard Paulk (right knee) and IWR Donte Sumpter (right ankle) all missed the action due to injury.