Competition fierce on ECU’s defensive line

Published 5:07 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s defensive line thrived in Saturday’s scrimmage. The Pirate front was able to hold the offense to an average of 2.7 yards on 45 rushing attempts. Quarterback pressure, which was among many areas of weakness a year ago, was apparent as Kiante Anderson and freshman Ja-Quane Nelson each notched a pair of sacks.

It’s been a mission of a revamped unit under new defensive line coach Robert Prunty, who comes from a four-year stint with American Athletic Conference rival Cincinnati.

One of a handful of new additions to second-year head coach Scottie Montgomery’s staff, Prunty isn’t too concerned with what ECU’s defense did and didn’t do in 2016.

“I don’t even know nothing about last year. That doesn’t concern me,” he said. “I’m doing what I’m doing here now. We’ll see what happens. I know we won’t be last in the country in sacks no more. I know that for a fact because I’ll go out there and make a sack myself.”

Prunty shied away from naming any standouts thus far. He said the defensive line is practicing three deep at this point in the preseason, and he doesn’t have starters identified. He hopes to see the competition produce some clarity after Saturday’s scrimmage, which marks the end of the preseason camp.

“They’re all playing on the same level,” Prunty said. “I’ll tell you this much: we have depth.”

Lack of depth was an issue as ECU’s linemen were ground down by November last season. Montgomery and the rest of the coaching staff have said time and again that they’re hoping to have nearly twice as many capable players on the line this season.

Another candidate to play with Anderson on the end is Minnesota transfer Gaelin Elmore. There’s a strong group of upperclassmen at defensive tackle that will likely lead the way while younger, developing linemen play a supporting role.

No matter how the chart shakes out at the position, veterans like Anderson can already feel the benefits of the added depth.

“I can feel it. The fact that we’ve got a lot of depth this year, and we’ve got a lot of talent on defensive line, I believe that will give us a better advantage when game time comes,” Anderson said. “We’ll have opportunities to make more plays, create plays and get sacks. That will be pretty good for us this year.”

There may not be any starters etched into stone, but Anderson has impressed over the last few weeks. The senior experienced viral fame when Montgomery surprised his mother with a scholarship for the walk-on.

It’s made his family more comfortable. Anderson has been more comfortable on the field, too, as he’s moved from linebacker to his more natural role on the defensive line.

“It’s gone pretty well. I’m actually glad they moved me back to the defensive line,” the South Central product said. “I’ve been kind of used since high school to putting my hand on the ground. It gives me more opportunities to make plays. I’m loving it.”