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View from the East
Thursday, May 16, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Quarterback question marks abound in C-USA


Pirates' O-Line a plus

East Carolina must break in a new quarterback next season but the Pirates will by no means be alone in that regard in Conference USA, a league in which inexperienced quarterbacks will be the rule, not the exception, in 2002.

An experienced offensive line, capable receivers and a promising running game are all factors that can ease the transition when a new quarterback takes over. The Pirates have all of those assets in place.

The mix of talent and experience varies widely around C-USA and among ECU's 2002 non-conference opponents. Now is as good a time as any to glance ahead at the signal callers and their offensive arsenals:

— Conference USA Quarterbacks —     <<< Top of Page >>>

Louisville has left-handed slinger Dave Ragone coming back for his senior season. Ragone has twice been the C-USA offensive player of the year. He completed just over 60 percent of his passes for a league-high 3,056 yards and 23 touchdowns last season in leading Louisville to its second straight conference title.

But two of Ragone’s favorite targets, Deion Branch and Zek Parker, have completed their eligibility and that means a possible adjustment period in Louisville’s passing game. There are also questions for the Cards in terms of running backs.

Other returning starters at quarterback in C-USA include Gino Guidugli of Cincinnati, Danny Wimprine of Memphis and Thomas Cox of UAB.

Guidugli’s 2001 season, in which he threw for 2,573 yards as a true freshman, gives every coach who must go into battle with an untested quarterback a precedent of hope.

Texas Christian would have had a returning starter if Casey Printers hadn’t transferred to Florida A&M. Printers, who completed 136 of 252 attempts for 1,824 yards, wanted to throw more to showcase himself for the NFL and he didn’t feel he would have that opportunity under second-year Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson.

As a freshman, Printers completed 13 of 19 for 191 yards and a touchdown for the go-ahead score in a 28-14 win over ECU in the inaugural Mobile Bowl. He decided to transfer shortly after throwing four interceptions in a 28-9 bowl loss last season to Texas A&M.

When Printers was a freshman TCU was coached by Dennis Franchione who was hired by Alabama after a successful rebuilding effort in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs will turn to Sean Stilley, who actually started against ECU last season when Printers was slowed by a bruised shoulder.

Wimprine plays at a school known more for its defense and the Tigers are coached by former defensive coordinator Tommy West. But Memphis’ offense is showing signs of entering the 21st century.

With Wimprine operating for an excellent 14-4 touchdowns to interceptions ratio last season, the Tigers moved former option quarterback Travis Anglin to wide receiver. Starting receivers Darron White and Antoine Harden are back after combining for 1,011 yards in catches last season.

The Pirates’ pass defense, last in C -USA last season in yards allowed, won’t have to be directly concerned with the Tigers, who are the odd man out for ECU. The league moves from seven to eight conference games next season and Memphis does not appear on the ECU schedule. Cox made a start against ECU in 1999 as UAB stunned the Pirates 36-17 in Birmingham after UAB had trailed 17-3.

Cox completed just 43.5 percent of his passes last season as the Blazers’ back-up. He threw for 727 yards with more interceptions, 5-4, than TDs. Cox does provide a running dimension, averaging 4.4 yards on 101 carries last season.

ECU, which hasn’t won a football game in seven tries in the state of Alabama, plays the Blazers at storied Legion Field in Birmingham on November 16.

Experienced quarterbacks are a blessing. Coaches who have them probably sleep better as the season approaches. By that standard, Todd Berry at Army, Houston’s Dana Dimel and Jeff Bower at Southern Miss may do some tossing and turning.

If he wanted to count quarterbacks instead of sheep, Berry might drift off the fastest. Reggie Nevels, Matt Silva and Cory Sherk are all sophomores and none climbed above mediocrity in the spring.

Nevels is the only one with any game experience, seeing action in three contests last season, but his spring scrimmage numbers — 4 for 11 for 63 yards with an interception — weren’t impressive.

Berry, formerly ECU’s offensive coordinator, will take a look at six freshmen signal callers in the fall and Jon Logan may be the best prospect among those.

Bower may have to calm himself by watching old tape of Jeff Kelly, who left after three years as the starter. Kelly wasn’t particularly mobile but he was durable. He could take a licking and keep on ticking. He threw for 2,613 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

Sophomore Mickey D’Angelo, junior Zac White and redshirt freshman Dustin Almond competed in the spring and finished on the depth chart in that order. Kelly got the starting job two days before the start of his sophomore season and the situation may lack definition to a similar degree going into 2002.

The Golden Eagles return starters at every other position on offense if you count big running back Derrick Nix, who has missed the bulk of the last two seasons with a kidney ailment. Nix, who ran for 171 yards on 42 carries in a 39-22 win at ECU in 1999, should take a lot of the offensive production pressure off of whomever gets the nod as the Eagles’ fledgling quarterback.

Dimel said he may not name a starting quarterback until just before kickoff at Rice on August. 31. The candidates are junior Nick Eddy, senior Torrence Botts, and freshmen Barrick Nealy and Blade Bassler.

Eddy has the most experience among that group, as he made four starts last season, completing 54.4 percent for 1,023 yards with six TDs and eight interceptions. Three receivers and a running back are among seven offensive starters returning for a Cougars team that has lost 15 straight.

The David Garrard era has ended at ECU and sophomore Paul Troth is the projected starter for the Pirates. Coach Steve Logan was encouraged not only by the progress of Troth in the spring but the prospect of mixing mobile sophomore Desmond Robinson into the offense next season.

By using two quarterbacks, Logan figures opposing defensive coordinators will have to prepare for two different offensive packages.

ECU has some talented receivers although depth is questionable. Richard Alston, Terrance Copper and Marcus White are all more than capable when healthy.

Art Brown and Marvin Townes should have opportunities to run behind a veteran offensive line that will feature Lombardi Award candidate Brian Rimpf at left tackle.

— Non-Conference Teams' Quarterbacks —     <<< Top of Page >>>

Among the Pirates’ non-conference opponents next season, Duke (D. Bryant), Wake Forest (James MacPherson) and South Florida (Marquel Blackwell) have veteran quarterbacks.

Only West Virginia, which lost Brad Lewis, must break in a new one, but the outlook brightened for the Mountaineers when sophomore Rasheed Marshall completed 21 of 27 passes in the WVU spring game for 231 yards and two touchdowns.

Senior running back Avon Cobourne will give West Virginia a proven ground threat. He averaged 118.0 yards rushing last season and also made 23 catches for 124 yards.

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02/23/2007 12:59:00 AM

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