By Nathan Summers
Thursday, September 27, 2012
East Carolina lost a veteran starter and a vital cog earlier this season when senior interior defensive lineman Michael Brooks injured his knee against Appalachian State.
When he returned last weekend, however, he did so as a first-time starter at defensive end, and never played a snap at nose guard. That’s how fast the Pirate defense is growing.
As much as ECU needed Brooks back in the lineup, the performance at his usual position by sophomore Terry Williams and redshirt freshman Terrell Stanley allowed the Pirates to start Brooks at one end with junior Lee Pegues at the other in the Pirates’ 3-4 scheme. Brooks expects to be in the same place on Saturday night against visiting UTEP.
“It’s a little different technique-wise, but I adapt to it well I think,” said the senior from Roxboro, who has five tackles in little more than a game, including three in his return last week against North Carolina. “It took me a while in the Carolina game (to adjust to playing end) but by the second or third quarter I started to get into my rhythm.”
UNC’s strong offensive line was just one in a string of tough assignments early this season for the Pirates’ defensive front.
With such rapid progress, however, head coach Ruffin McNeill likes the idea of the trimmed-down Brooks — he’s listed at 276 pounds this week as opposed to 313 in the ECU media guide — on one outside edge and the 290-pound Pegues on the other.
“We’ve played tough lines all year from South Carolina’s offensive line, and Southern Miss had a really feisty offensive line and then last week five (potential NFL) draft choices, and those guys have held their own,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said of his defensive front. “Michael has the athletic ability to play nose and the strength to play nose, but he also has the mobile side of it where he can play defensive end too.”
Pegues might be the perfect personification of ECU’s rapid defensive growth.
After a pair of starts last season, the Wallace, S.C., native has already made starts at end and nose this year, and he’s compiled 12 tackles in four games.
“Over the summer (McNeill) said, ‘I want you guys to be able to play the whole D-line because at any given point somebody can go down,’” Pegues said. “He made us versatile. The technique is mostly the same, you just have to be a little more physical to play inside.”
Depth is thick behind at all three starting line positions with the likes of junior veteran starter Matt Milner, sophomore Chrishon Rose (two starts this season), senior John Lattimore (two starts) and redshirt Jonathon White all in reserve roles.
McNeill’s rallying cry following the UNC loss has been don’t hesitate.
He wants his players, namely sophomore quarterback Shane Carden, to play full throttle and be decisive without turning the ball over, but also without the fear of making mistakes. Of the seven sacks by the Tar Heels, some were the fault of the offensive line and some were on Carden for not getting rid of the ball sooner.
“Because Shane has been around us for three years —freshman, redshirt freshman and now sophomore — he’s been exposed to it,” McNeill said of Carden’s grasp of the offense. “So it’s not that part. It’s just that this was his second start and it still moves fast for him. Trust me, he’ll slow down and you’ll see what he can do.”
McNeill said it would be only natural for teams — including the hard-hitting Miners — to try to put as much heat as possible on Carden in the form of blitzes.
“That’s the normal rule of thumb — you blitz the young guy and defend the veteran,” McNeill said. “Shane’s been in it three years but he’s young in starting though. We’ll prepare him this week to see that.”
Contact Nathan Summers at email@example.com or 252-329-9595.
via The Daily Reflector.