Depth allows Pirates to build toward future

Published 12:25 pm Friday, July 21, 2017

GREENVILLE — Kickoff in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is six Saturdays away.

This upcoming football season is going to be an important one for East Carolina and second-year coach Scottie Montgomery. The head Pirate, who came over from Duke to begin his head-coaching career in Greenville, posted a 3-9 record in his first season with ECU.

Fans are clamoring for more success this season. Despite a grueling schedule that features non-conference matchups with Brigham Young, Virginia Tech and even reigning FCS champion James Madison in the opener, everyone wants to see noted improvement from last year to this year.

No one wants to see the Pirates collect more wins this year than Montgomery himself. He’s also looking down the road at what he can build ECU into a few seasons from now.

Montgomery has already sent a strong message about what he’s trying to make the program into. He and his staff hit the recruiting trail hard, and it paid off in an output of promising commitments.

“Our assistant coaches have done everything in the world in recruiting for the last eight or nine months, and especially in the last five months since we’ve added some new people in recruiting,” Montgomery said. “Once they get (the recruits) here, I think it’s easy. We have our campus. We have our school. We have the greatest fan base in the country. We have unbelievable facilities that are growing.”

It will be a few years before many of those commits or even the incoming freshman class are relied upon on the field. That’s because of the depth ECU has almost across the board. Montgomery said that, despite losing the NCAA’s most prolific pass catcher in Zay Jones, the Pirate receiving corps should be deeper than it was in 2016.

ECU has earned a reputation for churning out professional-level wide receivers. Depth at that position is expected. The Pirates have added depth where there wasn’t, too. The defensive line has another year under its belt. Upperclassmen like

“Twelve months, six months, it makes a huge difference. That’s what we had to have,” Montgomery said. “I felt bad at times. We were playing five guys on our defensive front. Everybody else was playing 11 and 12. Then you turn on the tape and wonder why guys are not playing at the highest level in the fourth quarter. It’s because they’ve just been banged out.”

Montgomery added that it was a problem that didn’t manifest until the middle portion of the season. Those few guys that were asked to shoulder much of the load up front were strong and healthy to open the season. It’s what allowed ECU to beat a good North Carolina State team. Those linemen ended up getting ground down by the time the American Athletic Conference schedule was in full swing.

Switching to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme has created depth at linebacker, too. Senior Jordan Williams will see a lot of the field this season, but there are plenty of other linebackers that ECU can cycle into the two-man rotation.

Some of the additions that created depth, especially on the front, have been graduate transfers. It’s a quick fix, but it lets younger players like eastern North Carolina products in Kendall Futrell (South Central), Raequan Purvis (Plymouth) and Jalen Price (Riverside) mature.

“My biggest thing I wanted to do at that position was to add length, girth, but also a lot of depth and playmakers,” Montgomery said. “I also wanted to add some age. I think we’ve got a good core, young group of guys coming in behind these guys.”

Winning cures all problems. It’s reasonable to expect that ECU takes a step forward this fall. It might only be another win or two, and a bowl game is going to be a tough task considering the schedule.

Even so, the Pirates have their eyes on the future, and Montgomery is building a deep squad that, at this rate, should be able to compete.