ECU is coming off its second 10-win season in program history and first bowl victory in six years. The defense, led by a returning defensive coordinator Rick Smith, was a major factor of the team's success. While the team is losing components that made Smith's system effective, no position got hit harder than safety.
"I wasn't sure what to do at strong safety," said Smith after Saturday's practice. "We lost three safeties and we didn't have a lot of safeties. We moved Xavier Smith, who was a redshirt freshman."
Although he's spent his ECU career as a strong safety reserve, Lamar Ivey is a frontrunner at the free safety position. The 6-foot-1, 196-pound senior is a victim of the shakeups in the secondary caused by all the players lost. However, he does bring leadership to the table, which is much needed with all the seniors the unit lost.
"It kind of put me in perspective," said Ivey. "I'm a senior now, so it's like ‘now it's your time.' There are a lot of other guys that are younger and it's time for them to step into their role, as well. Some guys do it by talking and some guys do it by example, but everybody's got to come together and we've got to figure something out."
Another player expected to take the ball and run with it is Josh Hawkins, who has been moved from boundary to field cornerback. The 5-foot-10, 183-pound junior earned a spot as a walk-on in 2011 and has been climbing the ranks ever since. This past season, he played in every game and had 40 tackles (24 solo) and an interception.
Hawkins had a great offseason since then, too. During his spring press conference, head coach Ruffin McNeil noted that Hawkins was one of the team's most improved in terms of strength and conditioning.
"We left Detric [Allen] at boundary," said Smith. "He's played that a lot and that's where Josh was. So, I said ‘well, let's not keep our best two guys stacked behind each other.' So, I moved Josh to the field. There are two starters back there […] It'll be a battle between Rocco [Scarfone], [DaShawn] Benton and Hawkins and, right now, I'd say Hawkins would win it. We'll have a pretty good battle for that two spot."
Allen keeping his spot at boundary cornerback gives the Pirates some continuity amidst all the position swapping. He started at the position last season and, like Hawkins, had 40 total tackles (25 solo).
The coaching staff will continue to make some adjustments to the depth chart. With spring practice still in its infancy, things will become clearer as time goes on. Beyond who's playing what position, the depth chart will continue to take shape, too.
"The whole goal of spring is to develop depth," said McNeill, "and not just depth, but competitive depth. I think we saw that last year when someone was banged up or nicked or subbed, we had guys who could step in and rise to the occasion."
The players are prepared to spend the next few months competing for not only starting roles, but for top reserve positions, too.
"Competition is always great," said Ivey. "We have a lot of good guys and a lot of guys that had the chance to step up and show what they can do. It's a lot of nature, too. That's what we were brought here to do—compete…I'm looking forward to it."