GREENVILLE, N.C. - Spring has sprung at ECU with football camp beginning later. Third year ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill met with the press both during the midday and after the first practice of the spring to discuss his objectives and talk about this year's team.
"This is an exciting time of the year for me," said McNeill, "You get on the field and see how a player who played last year has developed to see how much they've improved. The players did a great job of buying into what we wanted them to do over the winter."
McNeill is excited for his team to "get around a football" for the first time in a while with the coaches there. The big hope according to McNeill is to "expose the team to difference situations and develop the overall football team."
According to the third year ECU coach, some players need fundamental development while some need more experience and situational development. ECU hopes to accomplish both in this camp. Ruffin wants to find the guys who will play hard and fundamentally sound.
In the end, East Carolina wants to develop a three-deep chart coming into the fall and establish roles for the various players on the team. The idea seems to be to expose the team to as many different things that caused the team difficulty in the past as possible. The hope is to come out of spring camp playing a solid, intelligent brand of football.
Overall, the Pirates now have 26 players at 4.6 or below in the forty-yard dash and strength has increased greatly. Many have put on a lot more weight. Some needed to lose some and Connors pays dividends in that area as well. McNeill said the team has made some "tremendous jumps" and calls Pirate strength coach Jeff Connors "a taskmaster who is the best in the country at getting the most out of his team."
McNeill expressed excitement about the four quarterbacks competing for the starting job vacated by departing senior Dominique Davis. McNeill says all four can run the offense and understand the system.
"You'd like to go into the season with a starter. We've got a formula and evaluation that is very intense." If not, you come into the fall and have the competition continue.
Defensively, the Pirates hope to "advance the already existing packages a little in terms of pass, substitution packages and even the base defense."
With four staff changes, one to the SEC and three to the PAC12, ECU hopes to break in new coaches, Nichol and Doll at outside wide receiver snd at running back/special teams respectively. McNeill says Nichol represents an advancement to the staff and knows the offense from A to Z.
A pair of no contact practices will happen today and Wednesday with a pro-timing day planned for Thursday. The team will put pads on Friday for the first time. The first scrimmage is set for March 31st.
The spring game is scheduled as part of the Great Pirate Purple Gold Pigskin Pigout on April 14.
The Pirates fielded a pretty young squad in many ways in 2011 in year two under McNeill and Company. They return a good base of players and an infusion of new talent that ECU hopes will begin to pay dividends this fall.
The most interesting competition will be at quarterback to replace Dominique Davis and in the secondary where the Pirates lost a boat load of experience.
Defensively the Pirates have to find replacements for guys like Antonio Allison at defensive tackle along with defensive backs Derek Blacknall, Emanuel Davis, Bradley Jacobs, Rahkeem Morgan and linebackers Cliff Perryman, Marke Powell and Bill Wallace.
An infusion of talent on the defensive line with guys like John Lattimore, Leroy Vick, Terrell Stanley and Johnathan White should help bolster the Pirates on defense. That should free up Derrell Johnson to contribute at outside linebacker in Brian Mitchell's 3-4 ECU defense.
McNeill gave kudos to Daniel Drake, Mike Dobson, Hunter Furr, the UNC transfer at running back, Justin Dixon and many others for their hard work over the winter.
On offense the loss of players like lineman Steven Baker, quarterback Dominique Davis, receiver Lance Lewis, linemen Hugh Parker and Doug Polochak and receivers, Michael Bowman, Mike Price, Joe Womack and kicker Michael Barbour will force this squad to scramble for leadership early on. That is big part of the process during the spring.
Still, ECU returns seven starters on each side of the football as well as holder Trent Tignor. They also have a lot of talent waiting to move up this season. Some were getting over injuries from last season. This group of players should begin to provide the Pirates with a bevy of options.
ON-LETTERMEN, REDSHIRTS, TRANSFERS, *SIGNEES (43)
OFFENSE (17): John Barnes-Smith (RB), Antonio Cannon (OR), Shane Carden (QB), Hunter Furr (RB), Chris Hairston (RB), Isaac Harris (OL), Stewart Hinson (OL), Cody Keith (QB), Chaz Lowery (OL), Kemory Mann (OL), Gray Mazzone (IR), Jonathan Powers (OL), Torian Richardson (IR), Tre Robertson (OL), Donte Sumpter (IR), Cedric Thompson (IR), Brandon Weymann (OR)
DEFENSE (19): Detric Allen (DB), *Adonis Armstrong (DB), Jeton Beavers (DE), Zeek Bigger (ILB), Terry Biles (DE), Will Foxx (DT), Josh Hawkins (DB), Glenn Hilliard (DB), John Lattimore (DE), Domonique Lennon (DB), Doug Mayo-Tapp (DB), Demetrius McKelvie (OLB), Montese Overton (OLB), Greg Robinson (DB), Rocco Scarfone (DB), Terrell Stanley (DT), *Godfrey Thompson (DB), Leroy Vick (DT), Johnathon White (DE)
SPECIALISTS (7): John Bicknell (DS), Charlie Coggins (DS), Warren Harvey (PK), Phil McNaughton (P), Matt Millisor (PK/P), C.J. Struyk (DS), Shawn Williams (PK)
After going to five bowls in the last seven years, East Carolina has become accustomed to post season play. The Pirates won two Conference USA titles during that period and the hope is to win another one this season.
Notes from ECU Athletics Media Relations:
A total of five returnees will be sidelined during the duration of spring drills because of injuries and subsequent rehabilitation assignments - DE Jeton Beavers (left shoulder), ILB Jeremy Grove (left shoulder), OT Grant Harner (left ankle), DB Glen Hilliard (right knee) and IR Danny Webster (right knee) ... Four others - OLB Jake Geary (left ankle), RB Chris Hairston (right knee), DE John Lattimore (right leg) and DE Matt Milner (right hip) - will be limited to mostly non-contact work ... McNeill announced the addition of Richard Cotton (IR/OR, 6-0, 180, Soph., Charlotte, Northwest Cabarrus HS) to his walk-on roster Monday ... The Pirates will spend another day in shorts Wednesday before moving to shells for the first time Friday.
Next Workout: Wednesday, March 21.
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