Position Preview: Linebackers
Last season’s version of the East Carolina Pirates boasted a daunting linebacking core that helped make the defense one of the best in the conference. . Now, though, leading tackler Brandon Williams and linebacking mate Maurice Falls have both departed for the NFL and Zeek Bigger and Montese Overton remain as the only two returners from the four-headed monster. . Bigger and Overton served as leaders on last season’s squad and recorded 140 and 68 tackles respectively while also boasting 15 combined tackles for a loss. Their return only helps a defense that returns only five starters. . Predicated on utilizing fast, athletic defenders, Rick Smith’s 3-4 defensive alignment puts emphasis and pressure on the linebackers to be both reliable in the run and effective against the pass. Biggger and Overton have proved themselves as more than capable of fitting into Smith’s defense but with Williams and Falls now gone, holes at the Buck and Will positions have to filled immediately. Sophomores Jordan Williams and Ray Tillman have battled with junior Devaris Brunson for the Buck inside linebacker position next to the All-Conference Bigger. Brunson, the most experienced of the crop, suffered a season-ending knee injury last season against South Carolina has since spent part of the spring and summer working his way back up the depth chart. Despite seeing playing time as a sophomore and freshman, Brunson has faced a challenge with Williams and Tillman both eyeing the starting job of their own. Tillman, the true sophomore, appeared in eight games last season on special teams and occasionally saw time at inside linebacker and totaled nine tackles but didn’t appear in any of ECU’s final five games, including the Birmingham Bowl. Tillman’s competition for the job is no surprise and he’s kept himself in contention into summer camp despite missing part of spring practice with an ankle injury. A fully healthy Tillman could very well see significant action as a two-deep member at the Buck. Williams is still a relative unknown to most Pirate fans but he could very well end up as the starting inside linebacker with the help of a strong summer camp. After spending a season redshirted at Shaw University, he decided to transfer to ECU as a walk-on. He appeared in nine games as a freshman last season, mostly on special teams but has since helped his cause with an impressive spring and continued training in the weight room. At the Will outside linebacking position, former walk-on and special teams catalyst Joe Allely appears to be the likely favorite to take over the duty on a full-time basis. The sophomore’s rise to relevance draws comparisons to Bigger’s and coaches have projected the 6-foot-1, 230-pound inside linebacker as the starter on the outside. Much like Bigger, Allely worked his way from walk-on status to scholarship player thanks to an impressive redshirt season in which he was named the defensive scout team player-of-the-year and then spent the last campaign as a key member of the special teams and served as a backup to Falls. He made an appearance in all 13 games last season and recorded 21 tackles. Behind Allely, junior linebacker Reece Speight will likely be the backup. Since joining the program in 2012, Speight has appeared in just six career games, mostly as a special teams contributor and has just two stops to his name. His inexperience makes it an up-hill battle to knock Allely out of the starting job.
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