Junior inside linebacker Jeremy Grove (83 tackles), Magazu (80) and Johnson (62) combined to make 225 stops a year ago to earn All-Conference USA honors. The trio, who also own a total of 85 career starts, also headline a unit that returns 78 percent of its tackles (766 of 977) and over 80 percent of its turnover production (18 of 22; 9/10 interceptions and 9/12 fumble recoveries).
Along with Pegues, another all-league performer last fall, the Pirates' front seven will be bolstered by the return of Tudor (62), Woullard (49) and junior nose tackle Terry Williams (46). Thompson, who booked a team-best three interceptions during his debut season, joins Magazu and Armstrong in a secondary that will be looking to find help at cornerback after the graduation of long-time pass defenders Jacobi Jenkins and Leonard Paulk.
ECU will opened the spring campaign minus kickoff returner Derrick Harris, but return nearly everyone else on the program's special teams squad. Hardy, who served as the Pirates' top punt return specialist in 2012, will join senior punter and holder Trent Tignor, junior placekicker Warren Harvey, sophomore short snapper C.J. Struyk and junior deep snapper Charlie Coggins as regulars.
Harvey was a perfect 50-of-50 on all point-after attempts and converted 13 of this last 14 field goal tries, while Tignor ranked 29th nationally with a 42.8 yards per punt average.
“We have a vision and we know what we want to accomplish, but getting our team, staff, everybody around involved within ear-shot range to understand the process – that is what it will take to get to that vision, "McNeill said.
East Carolina will return to the practice complex Wednesday as part of a Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday workout schedule during the next four weeks. After planning on spending its first two practice sessions in shorts and shells, McNeill indicated ECU would conduct its first pad workout Friday to begin preparation efforts for scrimmages April 6 and April 13 prior to the playing of the annual spring game.
NOTES: McNeill announced during his press conference that a total of seven players will miss portions or the entire spring workout period because of injuries and subsequent rehabilitation efforts ... ILB Jeremy Grove (left shoulder) and NT/DE Terrell Stanley's (left knee) action will be limited, while IWR Chris Cacciola (left shoulder), DE Justin Dixon (right knee), FS Damon Magazu (back), DE Matt Milner (right hip) and RB Jamal Tillman are expected to sit out the entire spring ... McNeill also reiterated that running back Vintavious Cooper will also miss spring practice because of a suspension that was announced on March 8 for an off-the-field matter.