After surrendering 54 points to Cincinnati, Rick Smith went back to the drawing board to reevaluate East Carolina’s secondary. Defensive backs Josh Hawkins and Dominique Lennon now find their jobs in danger due to sub-par performances in recent weeks.
Less than a month ago, Hawkins was named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award for best defensive back in college football. His performance has dropped off since then. Most recently, Hawkins missed a tackle at the 25-yard line on Cincinnati’s Chris Moore that allowed him to break off for a 66-yard touchdown to take the lead.
“Josh started out so well,” said Smith. “He’s second team now. He gave up the 80-yarder one week, the 60-yarder the next week and he hasn’t practiced well. Basically, it’s just focus. He hasn’t been getting signals because he doesn’t look. He’s just kind of got the ‘big head.’”
Hawkins’ demotion will give sophomore defensive back DaShaun Amos a shot at the starting job. Smith mentioned the story of Wally Pipp, who lost his starting role with the New York Yankees when Lou Gehrig began his legendary career.
“One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity,” said Smith. “Josh hadn’t practiced well, hadn’t played well, so I’m giving Amos a shot. If he plays really well and grades out a winner, Josh will still be second team.”
Another player getting an opportunity come Saturday is Travon Simmons. The red-shirt freshman defensive back will replace Dominique Lennon on third down situations. Smith said that if Simmons plays third down well versus Tulane, he could take over Lennon’s job full-time.
“Dominique hasn’t played as well as I had hoped,” said Smith. “He’s kind of sometimes a robot…You don’t always want him to do exactly what you tell him because the offense doesn’t always do exactly what you’re expecting.”
The issues that are plaguing Hawkins and Lennon affect the entire secondary. In ECU’s loss at Cincinnati, each defensive back missed at least two tackles. That’s what allowed Cincinnati to make the big plays that won the game.
Smith hopes that this newfound competition at the defensive back positons will work as a sort of wake-up call for Hawkins and Lennon. Some improvements have already been noticed.
“I told (Lennon) Tuesday afternoon, ‘You sure did practice better today,’” said Smith. “He looked at me and said ‘I did.’ I said ‘Do you know why?’ He said, ‘Yeah, my job is in jeopardy.’ It’s funny what competition does. Sometimes I have to do things like that. More often, maybe.”
Coaches touted Cincinnati as the best offense ECU has played this season, but Tulane is only averaging 196.3 passing yards per game. On top of that, there are also some similarities between the way Tulane and Cincinnati run their respective offenses.
“They’ve been running some similar plays that Cincinnati runs,” said Hawkins. “It’s helping us get the feel for what we messed up on…they’ve been helping us correct those. Staying over at the post, the double moves and the fakes—we’re getting that all down pat.”