GREENVILLE, N.C. — Below is the second of 10 spring practice “Q&A” segments – Thursday’s edition features defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Blake Harrell, senior Bruce Bivens and junior Xavier Smith.
Q: What are your goals and key priorities to accomplish this spring, especially after not having the opportunity last year after your hire?
A: Well, first of all, it’s awesome to be back on the grass, be out here with these guys and having an opportunity to go through spring ball with them. We didn’t get that chance last year. Being around older guys, not going through day one of install, and since these guys are veteran guys, they know where they are at right now. Our main goal is to develop players, not plays. We want to see them improve with their fundamentals, improve as individuals and improve as a unit. Improving as an individual helps improvement of the unit, which improves the football team and then we can go win games and championships in the fall.
Q: On paper, you return 10 of 11 starters – what kind of foundation does that give you heading into 2021?
A: Like I said earlier, anytime you have guys coming back and they don’t have to learn a new defense for the first time, they already have the schemes, vocabulary and terminology – that makes it easier to go out there and play fast. We are really excited about that. You aren’t lining up on day one and trying to go through the basics. You already passed the 100 hundred level class and are on to a deeper understanding of the defense.
Q: What was main component of ECU’s ability to produce takeaways (18/25th nationally) a year ago?
A: We preach that in our drill work and in our practice – it’s all about the ball. If you see us on social media, you know it’s all about the ball. It is guys attacking the football, playing with a lot of effort and getting eleven hats to the ball. If you get eleven hats to the ball, good things are going to happen.
Q: Three of your ILBs are seniors with a combined 63 starts – how does that affect the entire defense?
A: It is awesome. It makes my job easier and makes me look like a good football coach. I am just always telling them how good of linebackers they are, and now they just need to be dang good leaders. The fact they can go out there and run our defense, set, make our checks and kind of control things is really nice to have.
Q: You and Aaron Ramseur are the only current ECU players with four varsity letters – what has been key to your durability and success?
A: I try to be the best player I can be and I feel like that will take care of everything else.
Q: How is Coach Harrell’s defensive game plan different compared to others you’ve played in at ECU?
A: Our defense now is different because he is more sold on us attacking and being football players more than anything else.
Q: What will you focus on this spring from a technical standpoint to enhance your production?
A: Knowing what the offense is supposed to be doing, knowing my assignments and alignment. Also, trying to read my keys and play as fast as I can.
Q: What is the story about you switching to a single-digit uniform number (5)?
A: I wanted a new start and a new outlook to go out with a bang in my senior year
Q: How can you improve on the impressive statistics you posted last year (team-high 72 tackles)?
A: Just coming out here and working hard every single day. The offense gives us great looks, so we have good competition on both sides. By working together as a team, individual plays and accolades come. I just do my part and the guys around me make me better and I try to do the same for them.
Q: Along the same lines, what are you goals for this spring, both individually and for the defense?
A: Knowing the defense in and out. We were robbed of that last year with no spring football, so this year we can really slow down and focus on the small details and not be rushed into the season. I want to better myself as a player, on and off the field, learning the small things like route concepts and other details.”
Q: Why do like playing defense better than offense (your first year)?
A: Offense is cool but playing defense you get to hit somebody, and that just brings a different energy and swag out of you. Catching the ball is fun, but when you get to hit the person with the ball and having your defense buddies around you after making a big play is what really drives me.
Q: You switched numbers again (37 to 12 to 10) – what was your thought process on that?
A: I initially wanted 10 last year, but other players had it, so I just had to play the waiting game. The opportunity presented itself this year, and even though I changed numbers last year, I wanted 10. So, I just got 10 since I always wanted that.