The reorganization effort at the back end of the East Carolina football team’s defense is far from complete, but the Pirates are on the road to recovery.
The defensive backs who limped off the field after a typically long day to end the 2012 season – a 43-34 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette at the New Orleans Bowl – have moved on, thanks in large part to new defensive coordinator Rick Smith.
The veteran secondary coach has reshuffled the deck to allow competition at three of the four defensive backfield spots – senior free safety Damon Magazu’s starting job is presumably safe – and at the midpoint of the second week of August camp, those jobs are still largely up for grabs.
“When we got in the locker room (at the Mercedes-Benz SuperDome), we said we’re not going through that again,” said senior corner Adonis Armstrong, who made 43 tackles and a team-best 14 pass breakups in his first season after transferring from Hinds (Miss.) Community College.
But Armstrong also was a primary target and part of the secondary’s rebirth has been mental.
“Coach Smith tells us we’re going to be a better secondary, and we’re buying into that,” said Armstrong, who started nine games last season, and had an interception and a fumble recovery. “Everybody gets a chance, and I think everybody is competing on the field side and the boundary side.”
According to Smith, Armstrong is the odds-on favorite to return to his starting post on the more dangerous field side. But he’ll see competition from recently-transplanted strong safety Lamar Ivey, a junior, and sophomore Rocco Scarfone, who saw action in 12 games last year.
Smith said he has moved senior former running back and free safety Michael Dobson to strong safety, where he joined redshirt freshman Terrell Richardson in backing up projected starter Chip Thompson.
Sophomore Domonique Lennon has moved into the top reserve spot at free safety behind Magazu and ahead of walk-on Nate Mays.
According to Armstrong, adapting to playing his position at the top collegiate level means accepting that there is never an easy day.
“In high school and JUCO we stayed on one side of the field,” he said. “The run-strength side is on the boundary, and the pass-strength side is on the field, so they’re going to throw it to the field side more.”
On the boundary side, Smith said he expects a camp-long battle between junior Detric Allen and sophomore Josh Hawkins.
Allen has seen limited action in his first two active seasons, appearing in just four games last year and making one tackle.
That total could increase rapidly soon, and Allen said the secondary unit has rebounded well from last year.
“It was a little of both,” Allen said of the team’s struggles with its defensive scheme and playing confidence last season. “Whenever we were in bad situations or messed up, we might not have had the greatest effort. I feel like coach Smith has helped us get our confidence back.”