ECU football opens fall practice with high hopes for 2018

Published: Aug. 3, 2018 at 4:34 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. – The first practice of the fall for the ECU football team was marked by a good overall vibe, crispness to the task at hand and increased speed, most noticeably from the defense.

The weather threw a wrench into the Pirates' plans, but they adjusted with ease and attacked the day on Thursday morning at the Cliff Moore Practice Facility. The workout originally was set for mid-afternoon, but the decision was made early to switch that to 10 a.m.

"I thought that it was great that we threw them a curveball today," said head coach Scottie Montgomery, whose team welcomes back 40 letterwinners from a year ago, including 12 of 22 positional starters. "Mother Nature, we have to do deal with that a bit.

"The best thing about camp and some of the new NCAA rules is that we have basically a good window of time that we can get out and practice. So the least likely time for it to rain, we decided to come out in that time of the day and it worked out pretty well."

The defense, which has seven returning starters for new coordinator David Blackwell, had a productive day as it continued building off what also was a productive spring.

"I think we are way ahead of where we were to start spring ball, which is a good thing and is something you would expect," said Blackwell, an ECU graduate who was a finalist for the FCS Defensive Coordinator-of-the-Year honor in 2015 and 2016. "We've had a good summer. We put heavy install in today, which in the last six years is probably the most I've installed on day one, honestly, and I thought our guys did a really nice job with it."

One of the defensive starters back is sophomore linebacker Aaron Ramseur, who was the team's fourth-leading tackler last year with 57. Ramseur, who played in all 12 games and started six, came on strong as the season progressed, tallying 56 of those tackles in the last eight games. He said to expect ECU to be quicker on defense.

"We have almost the whole defense, including linemen, running under a 4.6 in the 40; together as a starting defense we average a 4.56," said Ramseur, who also had two interceptions a year ago. "Everybody is so much faster this year, and you could see it in practice today. Everybody's moving fast. Of course, we don't have pads on, but it's not a big difference with the pads on. Physically and mentally, everybody's just getting it done."

They were also put to the test with the heavy install, but Ramseur said they handled it well.

"It's day one, but it feels like day seven with the plays we know because we've been doing them ever since spring, so that's good," he said. "We basically know all the plays we did today. We have some young guys adjusting. It was their first time in the meeting rooms, but on the field everybody was moving. Everybody understands the tempo of what we're doing and what the coaches expect out of all of us."

"The biggest positive today was our ability to come out and execute at a pretty high level, as far as not a lot of missed assignments and not a lot of busts with as much install as we did today," Blackwell said. "Our guys know they've worked hard, and they're excited to show people what they've got. "

A light rain that had been falling stopped as practice began, and it was obvious pretty quickly that the Pirates had a lot of what Montgomery termed "juice," some of it an after-effect of moving into the new locker room yesterday.

"It's always a great energy level the first day," he said. "The challenge is, how do we maintain the energy level that we have? Of course we were going to have a great productive day today since we just went into one of the most beautiful facilities in the conference. My challenge for our coaches and for our players right now is trying to figure out a way to bring back all that energy tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and so on."

Overall, Montgomery was impressed with the quarterback play, saying the Pirates are further along than he expected and that the top three at the position — Reid Herring, Holton Ahlers and Kingsley Ifedi — could go out and play right now.

It's all a part of what he has termed a "good football offseason."

"We had a really, really productive offseason," Montgomery said. "We don't know a lot about how great or how bad practice was today until we see it on tape, but we do know we saw a lot of competitive playmaking, whether that's on offense or defense. Really we're a lot further ahead that we thought we'd be today."

Junior Hussein Howe, who led ECU in rushing last year, highlighted by a 108-yard day against Tulane, echoed that.

"I rarely saw any missed assignments out there on the field," he said. "Everybody knew what they were doing. The defense was on point, and we were just out there flying around."