Pirates tailor recruiting to build defense

With the Air Raid, ECU spent the last three years building one of Conference USA's most powerful offenses. Through recruiting, the defense is looking to catch-up.

A crucial aspect of building towards the future relies not on past success, but rather on recruiting tomorrow's stars. Running back Vintavious Cooper and quarterback Shane Carden will be cornerstones of the time being, but they won't be around forever.

The Pirates are already skilled on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, Carden finished with Conference-USA's third-best QB rating and Cooper rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,049). Also, wide receiver Justin Hardy's 1,105 receiving yards were good enough for third place in the conference.

With that in mind, ECU shifts its focus more towards the defensive aspects of the game.

During defensive coordinator Rick Smith's first stint at ECU (2005-2009) under Skip Holtz, the defense led the Pirates to back-to-back conference championships in 2008 and 2009.

Smith's has a background coaching defensive backs, but with ECU finishing outside the top 100 in pass defense and the unit giving up 31.6 points per game.; he might have his work cut out for him.

If a quick turnaround in secondary occurs in 2013, it wouldn't be the first time for Smith.

When he came onto the scene in 2005, he made an instant impact. The Pirates defense allowed less than 185 passing yards a game, earning them a spot among the nation's 20-best pass defenses.

Smith's defenses were always capable of making game-changing plays, recording at least 15 interceptions in each of his five seasons.

To address the team's problematic defense, which gave up 591 yards to the Ragin' Cajuns in the New Orleans Bowl, much of the next two recruiting classes will be defense-heavy. Of the 22 recruits in the class of 2014, 13 are defensive players.

B.J. Hill, West Stanly High School in Oakboro, N.C., is one of the defensive standouts. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound defensive end adds plenty of strength and side to the defensive corps. ECU was his first offer and he could be one of the more likely commits of the class.

Similarly, Arthur Williams would be a tremendous addition of defense. At 6-foot-5 and 298 pounds, the defensive tackle from E.E. Smith High in Fayetteville, N.C. is an intimidating force on the gridiron.

While these next few draft classes will be aimed more at defense, ECU's offensive future looks bright, too. With five wide receivers on the radar, the Pirates seem to be focusing on the passing game.

Brock Deatherage stands as one of his class' most impressive pure athletes. From Western Alamance, Elon, N.C., Deatherage can play both wide receiver and cornerback and could be one of the fastest players in a Purple and Gold uniform since Chris Johnson. If that's not enough, he's also being recruited to play baseball for the Pirates.

Offensive focus isn't just on the passing game, though. Running back Vincent Lowe from Grassfield High in Chesapeake, V.A. is a small player who could use his size to run through the opposition.

A few takeaways from ECU's recruiting are that the Pirates are looking to add more length and speed while also improving at rushing off the corner. With the players they're recruiting, in addition to Smith's return, ECU should be in for drastic improvement on the defensive end, too.

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