ECU Turns In 13th Fall Practice

UABSPORTS.COM Associate Head Coach/Inside Linebackers Coach John Wiley
Associate Head Coach/Inside Linebackers Coach John Wiley

Aug. 12, 2013

Inside Linebacker Highlights

GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina headed into its first off day of camp with a team-oriented two-hour practice conducted in shells Monday morning on Hight Field at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex.

Under partly cloudy skies with high humidity levels and temperatures hovering in the mid-80's, the Pirates spent nearly 45 minutes total on team-on-team drills with emphasis on red zone and third down conversions.

"It was a hot one out there today and I thought the guys attacked it well," fourth-year head coach Ruffin McNeill said. "It's that time in camp where some guys are tired and bumps and bruises start to surface, but they did a good job fighting through those things. I decided to move the schedule around today and will use the afternoon as an opponent session to watch film and forego the second practice. After 11-straight physical workouts, I think today is a great day for us to dive into the mental aspect of things in regards to opponent preparation."

During breakout group sessions, the offense spent additional time on screen packages and routes on air while the defensive secondary worked against scout team wide receivers. Both the offensive and defensive lines continued to work on pass protection and pass rush.

After taking Tuesday off, the Pirates will return to practice Wednesday with a morning session.

Camp Notes:
Senior OWR Lance Ray (right leg) returned to practice after missing the last two workouts, which included the scrimmage on Saturday.

Wednesday's Practice Time: 8:45 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Season Opener: Aug. 31 vs. Old Dominion in Greenville (7 p.m.)

Positional Snapshots
Today's "Q&A" format will highlight the Pirates' inside linebackers:

Assistant Head Coach/Inside Linebackers Coach
Similar to other units on defense, your group returns a lot of experience - most notably with All-Conference USA performer Jeremy Grove and Kyle Tudor headlining a list that also offers plenty of quality depth. Talk about their leadership roles and the luxury of having the deep level of talent you do heading into the season. "In regards to leadership, Coach McNeill has put a lot on both those guys, especially Kyle. Everyone recognizes Jeremy's name from two years ago with the great season he had, but if you ask me who the heart and soul of our defense is from a leadership standpoint, I'm going to tell you its Kyle Tudor because of his work ethic both on and off the field. Jeremy is also a great leader in the film room and players follow his lead on the field. The depth issue is a double-edge sword. Don't get me wrong, I love the depth we have, but with that level of experience comes high expectations and I have transferred those expectations onto those kids. What I expect of them everyday in practice, the weight room and film room is perfection. They have been told that, they know it and it's a hard objective to live up to, but we are striving to obtain just that because they are experienced and nothing has changed for them."

To the common and perhaps untrained eye, you just added another linebacker when the 3-4 was implemented two years ago. Is the schematic change as simple as that (for you)? "The rules of the game say you can only play with 11 guys. If you add another linebacker, where does he come from? What it really does for us is add multiplicity. Sometimes we are exactly in the same alignment as a traditional 4-3, it's just one of those outside linebackers has to assume the role of a defensive end. But the difference is, now that guy is a two-legged player (upright), and so we can drop him into coverage and we can change some things with them. So again it's just a level of multiplicity. Now as far as a learning curve, we have to be able to play both odd and even fronts with those inside linebackers."

What are the responsibility differences between the MIKE (returners Grove, Ty Holmes, Zeek Bigger) and the BUCK (Tudor, Brandon Williams, Desi Brown, Drayvon Fairley) positions? "Because everything is a field-based or strength-based defense, the MIKE versus one-back sets has to kick out on three to the field, where the BUCK has to kick out on two in the boundary (weak side). Plus knowing that one side is blitzing and the other is covering are two different calls to the same guy because of their responsibilities. Athletically, there is no difference and they both need to be able to do the same thing."

The myth has always been that inside linebackers should lead the team in tackles every year when everything is going to way it's supposed to. If that's a relatively true statement, why? "You would like for that guy to be up there and involved, which Jeremy has proven that he will do. It's more about blocking schemes. Really, that MIKE and BUCK play with that nose guard and the offense has a choice - are they going to pay attention to that nose or those linebackers? So depending on what scheme they are utilizing and what their game plan is, whether they are going to secure that nose and think they can handle him one-on-one or are those guards going to have to help that center with the nose guard. That's going to predicate who is going to be free in our scheme."

We've asked this question when discussing the DL and OLBs earlier - coordinator Rick Smith has talked about providing different looks for the 3-4 this year, thus how much of an impact will that have on your particular unit? "It has affected us a little bit coverage wise. Coach Smith has done a wonderful job coming in here and seeing what our guys have done in the past with the 3-4 scheme and blending his knowledge and experience into it. The direct answer is more related to coverage elements. There is nothing drastically different other than our control and drop may change. Our techniques remain the same."

The aforementioned level of experience and athleticism are obviously a plus for you, but what are some areas you addressed during the spring and in camp so far that you want to see improvement in? "Coming in I had an individual plan for each guy and where I thought he as an individual player needed to work on. Overall it's still the basic fundamentals. For us that means the ability to use our base or footwork, pad level, getting off blocks and making tackles in different situations - whether it's in the whole, out in space or in the alley. Those are the areas we focus on, and individually, each guy will have an area that he needs to improve upon to be a better overall player."

Who are some younger players that have caught your eye, either in the spring or during the first few days of preseason workouts? "I call him a young guy because he hasn't had that much on-the-field experience, but Brandon Williams has come along nicely, as well as Zeek Bigger. Some of the fans are familiar with Zeek's play on special teams last year making a lot of tackles on both kickoff and punt teams, but he has elevated his level of play and has a firm grasp on what we are doing. Freshman Devaris Brunson is a huge skilled and explosive athlete that is going to be a great player for us. Right now he is a little behind the learning curve on the scheme, but because we have such great depth at the position we can bring him along slowly, and let him adjust and learn, so when it becomes his time he knows exactly what to do and he can let his talent go play."

Junior inside linebacker Jeremy Grove

What are your personal and team goals for the 2013 season? "I do have some personal things that I am working towards this season. During camp I am trying to improve on every part of my game. There is always room for improvement. I'm not perfect but I am going to keep striving for perfection. Right now we are focused on winning a conference championship and have our eyes set on going to a BCS Bowl."

As a starter, beginning with your freshman year in 2011, all you've known is the 3-4? What are some benefits for you in this scheme and could you picture playing anything else? "I have played in both the 4-3 and 3-4 scheme. I think what helps us out the most is our defensive line. They are a deep group up front. They're skillful beasts that keep the offensive line off of us by eating up double teams allowing us to move freely and make plays."

What would you list as your most memorable ECU Pirate moment to date? "I would say when we beat Navy at their place in 2011 after they put all those points on us a year earlier. Just from the standpoint that it was a hard-fought game between both teams and how it went down to the end with us coming out on top. We left it all out on the field that day and it felt good."

Coach Wiley has a developed a distinct championship pedigree during his successful career - how or what will you always remember about him when your collegiate career is over? "Coach Wiley is relentless and is never satisfied. People say you can't be perfect, but that's what we expect as a unit."

Senior inside linebacker Kyle Tudor

What are your personal and team goals for the 2013 season? "Personally I just want to stay healthy. It seems that I've always had some type of small injury that has kept me out or not 100 percent on my game. Right now I am focused on fine-tuning some aspects of my game like footwork, tackling and being able to decipher plays quickly when on the field. I want to win every game and so does everyone on the team. The team goal is a conference championship and that hasn't changed since I stepped on campus back in 2009. I think we are going to be better than what people expect. We have a lot of depth at each position and I think that can carry us to a BCS Bowl, which is also another one of our goals."

You are one of the few guys who were a part of the program while (coordinator) Rick Smith was here earlier. Talk about how the transition has gone for you and what are some of the things he does that you like, characteristics you might have forgotten about since 2009. "Coach Smith is very vocal and the guys like playing for him. When you have that type of coach that will call you out in front of the team for any mistake no matter how big or small, it makes you a better player. He demands respect, not just to him and the other coaches, but to yourself and your brothers on the field, and to give 100 percent in everything you do on the field and in life."

What has been your most memorable ECU Pirate moment during your first two years? "Even though I was redshirting, I would have to say the 2009 C-USA Championship game against Houston. It was an unbelievable atmosphere, great game and I can't wait to experience that again."

Coach Wiley has a developed a distinct championship pedigree during his successful career - how or what will you always remember about him when your collegiate career is over? "Coach Wiley doesn't except mediocrity. He doesn't settle for anything less than 100 percent effort, both on and off the field. He is like a father figure to all the guys and will get after you if he feels that it will make you a better player or man."