Nearly a year removed from featuring one of the nation's worst pass defenses, ECU turned to Smith to change the mentality of the defensive backfield and subsequently, improve those numbers. Even though he's only had the spring session and fall camp to do so, Smith has already made an impact and his personality is beginning to rub off on the players.
"Rick is really at the top of his profession here," said head coach Ruffin McNeill at practice. "He's that old school flavor that I'm used to, but the kids have really adjusted and embraced Rick's personality and it tells on the field."
When asked to describe his defensive coach, sophomore cornerback Josh Hawkins said, "He lets us have a little more swag out there. We have a lot more fun." Adding, "I'm glad Rick Smith came in and did what he did to the defense and that you can actually tell the difference between (former defensive coordinator Brian) Mitchell and Coach Smith coaching."
Earlier in the week, Smith said senior Adonis Armstrong had "nailed down" a starting position at field cornerback. But on the other side of the field at boundary corner, the position battle between Hawkins and junior Detric Allen has yet to be resolved. Though, Smith has hinted that Hawkins has the edge.
"The reason I would lean more towards Hawkins is (because) he's started three games last year, where Detric has only played special teams," Smith said. "I still have not fully decided, but if I had to make a decision today it would be (Hawkins)."
The leader of the secondary is senior and fourth year starter, Damon Magazu. At the beginning of fall camp, Smith said he has tried to light a fire under his free safety, who responded by emerging into one of the leaders of the defense.
"It's something that over my career has come upon me naturally, just from the positions that I've been in," said Magazu. "I've had to work on becoming more vocal this past year and now during this camp … I try to lead the way not only vocally, but physically, and just show them how I think it needs to be done."
Over the past three seasons, Magazu has made numerous game-changing plays – including a pair of game-clinching interceptions against N.C. State and UCF. Even more impressive, Magazu compiled 80 tackles last season, which was second on the team, trailing only preseason All-Conference USA linebacker Jeremy Grove.
With next weekend opener's rapidly approaching, the Pirates are beginning to implement preparation for the Monarchs. Though, ECU's stronger focus has been on themselves and playing up to its potential.
"We're the only team that we can lose to," said Magazu. "We've got one of the best offenses in the nation and being able to go against them is really going to get us more prepared than anything."