GREENVILLE, N.C. — Below are notes from Sunday’s East Carolina University spring football practice. Also, here’s the sixth of 10 spring practice “Q&A” segments. Today’s edition features defensive tackles coach Roy Tesh, sophomore Rick D’Abreu and second-year freshman Elijah Morris.
The Pirates conducted an approximate 90-minute workout in limited gear on Bagwell Field inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium late Sunday afternoon … Head coach Mike Houston and his staff emphasized situational work in the latter stages of practice, keying on third down, redzone and goal line execution on both sides of the ball … ECU will conduct regularly scheduled sessions on Tuesday and Thursday at the practice facility this week before competing in its first full intra-squad scrimmage of the spring at DFS Saturday morning.
Q: What are the key objectives you want accomplished for your group by the time spring practice reaches a conclusion?
A: Building a consistent fundamental base. With all the young guys we have, we have to make sure they understand how to play the position and understand how we want them to play the position. Not only technique wise, but effort wise, and what the standard is. We have to get all of those guys above that standard.
Q: You had a very young unit last year that showed well in the national statistics – how does experience change your coaching approach this year?
A: It doesn’t. You can’t take anything you did last year for granted. Those guys have to move forward, continue to get better. The learning curve has to continue to go up. We do not sit and talk about our youth and inexperience. Instead, we talk about what we have to get done today, how we are going to approach it and how we are going to accomplish the mission.
Q: What do you emphasize most to your players up front in trying to stop the run? What about putting pressure on the QB in pass defense?
A: Stopping the run is a group effort. Everything we do is a group effort. With pass defense, obviously our key is to pressure the quarterback, but the first thing we teach them is that we are part of a whole, part of a greater good. Our guys are bought into the fact we are trying to build a great unit, not a group of individuals. To stop the run, you have to play physical from the point of attack. Obviously, there is technique and fundamentals involved, like how to take on a block, and that is huge in the spring for us to learn how to do that consistently. Echoing what they do in the weight room with Big John (Coach Williams) and the standard Coach Houston has set forth for us. We are going to be a physical football team and that is how you stop the run. For pass rush, you have to earn the right to rush the passer. We joke all the time that you don’t get any pass rush fun until you stop the run. You got to put an emphasis on fundamentals in stopping the run game and everybody playing together, then understanding it is time to cut loose and go in with a pass rush mentality.
Q: What are the most important physical and mental attributes for a defensive tackle to thrive in college football?
A: Big, fast and angry. Quickness off the ball is a must for our defense with the variety and how multiple we are at the point of attack. Obviously, if we want to be physical, we have to be strong. There is an aspect that Big John brings to us coming from the weight room.
Q: Is there a friendly competition between units on who generates the most takeaways (as ECU ranked 25th nationally last year)?
A: Yes, but again like we said, we have to learn how to get excited about teammate success. So, when the secondary’s back there swarming and picking the ball off and taking off to celebrate, we are going to celebrate with them because we are trying to get a hand in the face and force a high ball. When those guys are back there locking it up, it is easier for us to get home in the pass game. There is friendly competition where we’re always going to jaw back and forth, and continue to prod each other to get better on both sides of the ball. Competition is the name of the game and is what makes us better. We all understand we are part of a greater good, we are all part of the whole and we will work together to get the job done.
Q: You’ve been a part of Coach Houston’s success at five different schools – what has enabled that loyalty and allowed you two to remain on the same page for so long?
A: Coach Houston is a better person than he is a football coach, and he is a dang good football coach. His record says that, wherever he has been he has resurrected teams that haven’t had winning seasons, and teams that have had winning seasons, won championships left and right. I think the thing that allows me to continue to work under him is the fact that you understand he is a good person. He treats the players and coaches like his family, and because of this, we are a tight-knit group. That is one of the recipes for his success – he is a genuine person and what you see is what you get.
Q: What part of your game have you worked on most this spring and why?
A: Really trying to work on my hands, getting faster and really working on my technique as a whole.
Q: What are some of your personal and team goals that you want to establish during the 2021 season?
A: Team goals – we want to go to a bowl game. I want us to succeed as a unit. Individually, I just want to have a season that takes me to the next level.
Q: You started all nine games at tackle last year after playing end as a freshman – what are the differences in the two positions and how did you prepare for that successful move?
A: The biggest difference is having less room to operate. I liked it a whole lot because I felt sometimes it was a mismatch. I felt I was faster than them, but still had the strength to move them around.
Q: Statistically, your best game was against Navy’s triple option in 2020 (10 tackles) – what was the key to that performance?
A: They ran the same offense as my team in high school did. We watched a lot of film and we really drilled it the week before (for Navy’s offense).
Q: What do you see yourself doing with a communication degree after you finish your football career?
A: I always wanted to be an ESPN sportscaster.
Q: How have you approached this spring – your first at ECU – after making such an impressive debut as a true freshman last year?
A: Approaching the spring, I’m just trying to learn. Last season I was just thrown in the fire, so I’m just using this offseason to learn and grow, and have it help the game slow down so we move faster.
Q: What has been most rewarding to you during your early ECU journey (from walk-on to scholarship to starter)?
A: Just listening to everyone who has been here. From coaches, players and older guys guiding me down the right way and keeping me level-headed in everything I did. Just learning and growing along the way.
Q: You played in all nine games, starting the last seven – what or who do you credit your success in 2020 to?
A: My coaches and teammates, because without them I wouldn’t know what I was doing and wouldn’t be out there with them. Also, listening to coaches who helped me do my job last year. Staying in my gap and making plays when the ball came to me. Other players put me in a great position to make plays
Q: Why did you switch to No. 90 after coming into the program relatively unknown as No. 60?
A: Honestly, I just wanted a different jersey, but number 60 is still a part of me. My locker is still number 60 and all of my (workout) clothes still have number 60 on them, so it’s just a different jersey. I keep them because it gives me the same mindset as last summer.
Q: What’s the secret to recovering fumbles (after finishing 3rd nationally with three last year, the most by an ECU DL since 1998)?
A: Just being in the right place at the right time and running to the ball. Other players and teammates are making plays, and I’m fortunate to be there to recover it”
Q: What are your future ambitions as an exercise physiology major?
A: I want to take that and be a physical therapist. I want to pursue that because I really like that career path. I remember in high school, I had a knee injury and had surgery, and I really liked my physical therapist. He made everything I did fun. I was really down when I got injured, but it really helps to have someone there like that. I want to be able to do that for someone else on day – help them recover.