East Carolina's 52-7 rout of North Carolina Central on Saturday marked Devaris Brunson's return to his natural position at inside linebacker after spending last season on the offensive side of things.
As a true freshman, Brunson shifted to offense in mid-October of last year. Zico Pasut's injury opened up a chance for him to climb up the depth chart and he made his offensive debut versus Southern Miss.
“He's playing his old position, really. He's a linebacker,” said fifth-year head coach Ruffin McNeill. “That's the selflessness we talk about as far as doing what's best for the team. When Zico Pasut got hurt, that took away a part of (offensive coordinator) Lincoln Riley's offense—having a fullback in a two-back system.”
Brunson had quite the impact on offense last season. He was integral in three of former running back Vintavious Cooper's four 100-yard games. He also played a big role in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl game against Ohio where the offense ran for a season-high of 281 yards.
“It was great,” Brunson said after Wednesday's practice. “We had a lot of injuries and I needed to help out the team. If that meant me switching to offense, that's what I did.”
That said, he now has the opportunity to get back to work where he's most familiar. He also played running back at Lake City (S.C.), but, as he says, his home is on defense.
“He's fitting back in great,” said McNeill. “He's got the chance to be a special player. He's got a great mentality. He's one of the most physical hitters I've been around in a long time. He really brings it and he's got a great attitude. He's a great team player.”
The transition back to his natural position hasn't been a walk in the park. Brunson has been working hard with the coaches to get acclimated and to learn the defense.
“There were a couple of things I had to relearn,” Brunson said after Wednesday's practice. “Once I got the concept, it pretty much came back to me. Going back to linebacker, I'm relearning all the coverages.”
Inside linebackers coach John Wiley devised a plan of reintegrating Brunson into the linebacker corps. The two sides had goals outlined coming out of spring camp, the summer and fall camp.
“Every bar we've set, he's made,” Wiley told Inside ECU Sports. “It started with learning the defense and how to get lined up. Then 'what is my run and pass responsibility?' Then it was transitioning to not thinking about it, but just doing it and being a player. That's what we are finally starting to see.”
Judging by his performance in ECU's season opener, the transition has been successful and Brunson is poised to make an impact at linebacker.
“It was what we needed to see out of him,” Wiley said. “He's becoming comfortable with the cause. Being able to execute the defense, therefor, you're starting to see the aggressive, big hit kind of guy he is. He had several nice licks (against NCCU) and one time he really tried to put a lick on a guy. That's the kind of player he's going to be as he becomes more comfortable.”
Brunson is only a sophomore and he's already proven he can contribute a lot to the team on offense, defense and special teams. If he continues to develop at linebacker, this former four-star recruit could turn into something special for ECU's program.