Fall camp journal: defense at work

Fall camp is in full swing for ECU football and position battles are starting to heat up. Inside ECU Sports was at practice to get an update from Rick Smith about how his defense is shaping up.

With the home opener against Old Dominion a little over three weeks away, the Pirates are hard at work to get things right. The return of defensive coordinator Rick Smith has people talking about whether this year's defense will be as good as the defense's he's had at ECU in the past.

Smith spoke about the progress the unit has made thus far and how close they are to being ready for Old Dominion.

"Twenty-one practices away, but they're making progress," Smith said. "Right now they have to fight through the wall. It's the eighth practice, legs are tired and they've had three practices in twenty-four hours with a two-a-day yesterday and this practice this morning. So right now they're dead legged, but I thought their concentration this morning was pretty good. We didn't have a lot of mental mistakes, but we had a lot of dead legs and weren't breaking on the ball that well."

The Pirates defense lost three 2013 recruits with the announcement that highly sought after defensive back Lucas Thompson, cornerback A.J. Coplin and inside linebacker Tristan Mumford would not report to camp. Despite the losses, Smith spoke about the new faces making an impact early on.

"Dashawn Benton, freshman cornerback out of Atlanta (GA) is doing really well," Smith said. "Another freshman corner(back) Travon Simmons is doing well, Josh Hawkins is playing at a high level and Detric Allen is getting better. Sometimes (Allen) is not as aggressive as we've wanted, but today I thought he had a really good practice."

Michael Dobson, who saw time at running back last season, has since made a switch to defensive back. It's a position he played in high school and he's making an impact. The secondary seems to have impressed Rick Smith the most so far.

"In the secondary we moved Michael Dobson from free-safety to strong-safety," Smith said. "He's had a couple of really good days. (Damon) Magazu is back to full speed and really playing well. I'm very pleased with where the secondary is right now; we just have to keep getting better every day and not take a day off."

The return of starters Jeremy Grove and Derrell Johnson at linebacker, along with Damon Magazu in the secondary has helped take the pressure off of Smith to rally the troops. He spoke about their leadership.

"There's a lot of returning older guys that have played a lot," Smith said. "They want to go out as a senior with a championship, so they're trying to make everyone accountable. They've kind of taken over – when the players take over that's when it's easy to coach and they're trying to get everyone to do it right and helping the coaches get them going. I think that's the mindset of the team right now and it's the same thing on offense. Our older kids are really encouraging people instead of complaining, yelling, and screaming, which is great to see."

Senior defensive end Justin Dixon has seen his career at ECU taken away from him with knee injuries. He's only played in 13 career games (one start) over the last three seasons, but has been productive when on the field. It seems like the right knee injury he suffered last season against South Carolina on September 8 is still not fully healed. Dixon missed practice to have that knee looked at because it wasn't feeling right.

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