Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

American Athletic Conference Team Preview: East Carolina Pirates

Demo breaks down the AAC's East Carolina Pirates in the latest Pony Stampede AAC team preview.

The first word that comes to mind when you hear East Carolina today is probably ‘dreamer,’ and the second word that comes to mind might be ‘parties.’

The Pirates have been very aggressive in their campaign to join the Big 12, after expansion talks grew from tiny embers to a full blown inferno over a week ago during the conference’s media day.

But the Pirates most recent dreams of having a Big celebration in Greenville seem a little far out of reach with ECU coming off a 5-7 season in 2015 and not even being a game into the Scottie Montgomery era.

Which, is fitting when you remember that Scottie Montgomery agreed to take over the program less than two weeks before he was supposed to orchestrate Duke’s offensive efforts against Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl.  

So while the Pirates former coach, Ruffin McNeil took a little Time Out, “riding long hours staring at the water, allowing everything else to fall away,” Scottie Montgomery was busy being ECU’s 12 head coach and helping Duke squeak out a 44-41 win over the Hoosiers. Scottie Montgomery is a [apparently] very good at multi-tasking.

OFFENSE

Even though Scottie Montgomery is apparently very good at multi-tasking, that doesn’t guarantee that ECU will flourish in his first season at the helm.

With both Blake Kemp and Kurt Benkert transferring, Scottie Montgomery, owner of an incredibly nimble attention span, lost two veteran quarterbacks before the Pirates even began campaigning for the Big 12.

The Pirates did add Philip Nelson, formerly from Minnesota and Rutgers, who should have the starting gig locked down.

This situation could be perceived a number of ways. On the one hand being a new, offensive-minded coach without a veteran quarterback to help ease you through the transition period could be rough. On the other hand, having a new quarterback and a new coach could help the program turn a new page and leave the old culture to take long boat rides staring at the water or whatever it wants to do.

Uncertainty under center aside, the Pirates will have a lot of weapons returning this season.  James Summers was the second leading rusher for ECU last season with 446 yards on 96 carries and was tied for the team lead for rushing touchdowns with eight. Anthony Scott, who rushed for 207 yards in 2015 will look to benefit from a bigger workload as well. ECU would also like it if Tennessee transfer Derrell Scott has a great first season as a Pirate.

Nelson will have a solid group of receivers to throw to with Zay Jones, Trevon Brown, and Davon Grayson.   Jones was the Pirates leading receiver a year ago with 98 receptions, 1099 yards and five touchdowns.

Grayson and Brown, along with sounding like a law firm, combined for nearly a thousand receiving yards and seven more ECU receiving touchdowns.

Unfortunately for Nelson, he will only have two returning starters on his offensive line.

DEFENSE
Kim Klement: USA TODAY Sports

Given the overall mystery surrounding the Pirate’s offense, the defensive side of the ball will need to be the steady constant for ECU in 2016.

Kenwick Thompson takes the reins for the defense in hopes he can help raise the Pirates up from the depths of mediocrity.  

Last season ECU was ranked sixth in the American Athletic Conference in total defense, giving up 400.9 yards a game. ECU also finished the season with a turnover margin of -3, which was ninth in the AAC.

One of the most sure fire ways to bolster a defense is to generate some pressure from the front seven. ECU will look to defensive end Fred Presley and defensive tackle Demetri McGill to pester opposing quarterbacks. The two combined for 9.5 tackles for a loss and McGill got to the quarterback 2.5 times.

Jordan Williams was ECU’s second leading tackler last season with 81 total tackles, six TFL and 2 sacks. He will be joined by Yiannis Bowden, who had 3.5 sacks last season and who the coaching staff believes could explode in 2016.

DaShaun Amos, Corey Seargent, and Travon Simmons return to patrol the Pirates secondary. Simmons was ECU’s fourth leading tackler (45) and had nine pass break ups last season. Amos and Seargent combined for 11 PBU last season and three interceptions.

BOTTOM LINE

This isn’t a terrible team. There are a few unknowns here, but what team doesn’t have a few mysteries?

In total, ECU is getting back 10 starters from last year, five on each side and four of those players are offensive or defensive lineman. That isn’t to say that the rest of its squad is entirely green.   

There are a number of guys ready to step into some bigger/newer roles and have significant impacts, e.g. Seargent, Amos, Bowden, Scott, Nelson, and Quay Johnson.

This season will be all about Scottie Montgomery establishing himself as the unquestioned Pirates' leader and it will all hinge on his ability to navigate through all the inherited unknowns.

One of the biggest upside to the entire undertaking has got to be that ECU wasn’t a terrible team last season, so Scottie Montgomery isn’t inheriting a program threatening to light itself on fire.  What’s more the absolute best thing about taking the ECU job is, unquestionably, that ECU wasn’t great last year either--so there is no real pressure.  Well, unless all this Big 12 talk draws a lot of national attention and everyone watches the Pirates fall on their faces.   

Seriously, ECU was about as average in 2015 as you could be. In fact, on both sides of the ball, there were only five things ECU did either really well or really poorly compared to the rest of the AAC: intercepting passes (11th), fourth down conversions (4th),  being assesed penalties (10th), time of possession (10th), red zone offense (4th), and red zone defense (T-4th). Literally everything else was average. Yet somehow they had the second highest average total attendance (42218).

So ECU and Scottie Montgomery have an opportunity to reach new heights in 2016. Or they could…you know…stay average. 


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