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March 25, 2013GREENVILLE, N.C. - Ruffin McNeill and his fourth year Pirates will open spring drills Monday but beforehand, McNeill addressed the press to talk about his hopes for this spring.
Noting that nothing is more important in the spring than fundamentals, McNeill said that Damon Magazu, Jeremy Grove, Terrell Stanley and Matt Milner will miss spring work. The Pirates hope to get Stanley back by next week.
With 16 of 22 starters returning on offense and defense for East Carolina, fourth year Pirate head coach told PirateIllustrated.com that chemistry has been a key over the offseason. Strength & Conditioning coach Jeff Connors says this team has some of the best chemistry he's been around. Winter workouts was fantastic.
Connors handles what McNeill terms as "phase one" where the team works on speed and power. Connors has one designated night where they hand out awards for Iron and Super elite Pirate along with record winning speed runs, etc. Spring ball is phase two. Then comes summer workouts, fall camp. That all hopefully produces a football team that is ready to rock come September.
"Fundamentals are never neglected around here but spring is our chance to start coaching the players and add to their tool box, but the entwining part, chemistry, having a vision of what we want to do and getting everybody to understand that process is going to be big. Ruff says the little things on and off the field and fundamentals will be key. Now we can decide what things in our scheme to keep and what to scrap."
Several players have had excellent summer workouts including Danny Webster and Quataye Smyre, a redshirt freshman. Will Foxx will move to offensive line and McNeill had high praise for the work of receiver Lance Ray who he says has had a great offseason and has worked very hard in the classroom. Reece Wiggins has stood out as well a Dequan Barnes who Ruff says is one of the fastest guys on the team. He is hoping for Chaz Lowrey to step up and do more this season as his career begins to progress.
"It's my 29th spring and it's never not been an exciting time to see how things have progressed," said McNeill, "It's our fourth spring here and that too has seemed to fly by."
McNeill guided East Carolina to an 8-5 record and a bowl trip to New Orleans. The Pirates fell to Louisiana-Lafayette. Terrance Broadway threw for 316 yards and a touchdown and ran for another to lead the Ragin' Cajuns to a 43-34 win over the Pirates in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl after the two teams were tied at 31-31 in the third quarter. ECU gave up 591 yards of offense in the bowl as well as 4 rushing touchdowns. ECU hopes to shore the defense up for this fall as they go for a third Conference USA crown in their final season in the league.
ECU hasn't won a bowl game since Hawaii during the Chris Johnson era. The Pirates will be looking to try to their fortunes in their final season in Conference USA before moving to a league formally known as the Big East.
McNeill enters the spring season with a veteran group of skill players and a revamped defensive philosophy under new defensive coordinator Rick Smith. Smith returns to East Carolina from USF where he worked on Skip Holtz's staff for several years including Holtz's tenure at East Carolina. The hope is to play better overall defense, get players into better position to make a stop and shore up the overall secondary.
"Rick brings a different coverage process," said McNeill, "Today is the first time we've had a change to get on the field with the team with a football and we hope to expose them to as many looks as possible."
McNeill is excited about this year's spring drills and hopes to find a few diamonds in the rough for the fall where ECU will hit the road to take on both N.C. State and North Carolina and will host Virginia Tech in Greenville along with a full slate of C-USA action.
Current ECU quarterback starter Shane Carden returns with a year's experience under his belt. The battle for backup quarterback should prove to be very intriguing with last year's scout team signal caller Cody Keith battling it out with newcomer Kurt Benkert out of Florida who reportedly has bigger ambitions than simply being the backup.
Justin Hardy and Justin Jones return at the inside Y receiver position and Ruff indicates a desire to get them both on the field at the same time plenty this fall.
McNeill promisses that Chris Hairston will get an abundance of reps at the running back position this spring. He has looked good in the past and the Pirates are counting on Hairston to be a part of the ECU offensive equation this fall, it appears.
Conference USA newcomer of the year, Vintavious Cooper, was suspended earlier in the month for a violation of team rules, so he will not participate in spring drills. Safety Damon Magazu, linebacker Jeremy Grove and defensive end Matt Milner are expected to miss spring drills along with Terrell Stanley who should return sometime next week.
Three weeks of drills will culminate in the 2013 ECU Spring Football Game on April 20th, all part of the Great Pirate Purple Gold Pigskin Pigout that will take place from the 17th through Sunday the 21st.
This is a time that Pirate fans look forward to every year. This year should be no different with no lack of abundance of interesting story lines this spring.
Catch PirateIlllustrated.com coverage of spring drills including Monday's Ruffin McNeill press conference from Ward Building on the ECU campus presented by Ironwood Golf and Country Club.
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