College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, August 18, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
Pirates' state of readiness tough to gauge
It's difficult to watch a scrimmage sometimes and really
know what you're seeing. That was my impression after a couple of hours in
the press box at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
First-year Pirates head coach John Thompson has been working
to pull this team together since taking the job on Dec. 20 and in the
context of his perspective, it was a good session in terms of progress from
the previous scrimmage on Wednesday.
"Our execution was better," Thompson said. " ... We asked
our guys to be better from Wednesday to today and they did that. ... Their
enthusiasm was better after going through 10 days of nothing but grinds.
They still had a little life out there."
It was a more relaxed atmosphere in the stands compared to
the Purple-Gold game in the spring. About 200 people were scattered about
the stadium compared to the 9,000 or so that were in the south stands in
A good degree of organization and crispness was apparent.
True freshman running back Robert Tillman looks like he can contribute
immediately. Paul Troth is struggling to find the consistency the offense
needs from its leader. Redshirt freshman Ryan Dougherty appears more than
capable of continuing ECU's fine tradition of punters with a spiraling
58-yarder to his credit on Saturday. The Pirates look to be well-conditioned
and they have no shortage of kickers.
There were a total of 16 field goal attempts from five
"We obviously set a record for kicks," Thompson said. "But
we wanted to see what those guys could do under the gun."
Freshman Julian Rauch, whose field goal at Carter-Finley
Stadium last year gave Gastonia Ashbrook a state title, hit from 42 and 46
yards. Cameron Broadwell hit twice from 42 yards. Chris Baglio provided good
depth on kickoffs.
Position battles continue and the results may not be
provided until the Sept. 1 season opener at Cincinnati. Saturday was the
last open practice of the preseason. The situational nature of the scrimmage
and the objective of involving as many players as possible kept the workout
from having the same type of flow as a game.
Thompson placed the offense in varied situations — first and 10 at its own
35, first and 10 at the defense's 40, first-and-10 at its own one, etc. The
Pirates worked on third downs, in goal-to-go and compacted-time situations.
"Our offense stuck it in there in goal-line situations and
our defense came back and did some real good things," Thompson said.
Troth was with the first unit and James Pinkney ran the
second unit. It appeared to be mostly first team offense against first team
defense and second team offense against second team defense. Desmond
Robinson, who has been competing with Troth in the preseason, did not play
in Saturday's scrimmage as a precautionary measure because he slightly
hyperextended his right knee on Friday.
Troth would direct a possession and then Pinkney would
follow in the same situation. Tillman got 12 carries for 76 yards in the
absence of Art Brown and Marvin Townes. It was announced this week that
Brown will be held out for the season. ECU's leading rusher last season with
1,029 yards, Brown had not participated in preseason drills. An MRI dictated
the advisability of a redshirt year. Townes sat out with a hamstring ailment
but is expected to return to practice this week.
That gave newcomers Tillman and junior college transfer
Kevin Fain a chance to show their stuff. Tillman is on the small side at
5-feet-11 and 180 pounds but defenders seldom get good shots at him because
of his shiftiness. Good things come in small packages, especially when they
have 4.3 second speed for 40 yards.
Fain ran 10 times for 28 yards and showed some good
straight-ahead power. Vonta Leach ran five times for 26 yards. He may be
utilized more in games but coaches got a good idea of what he can do in
Pinkney threw the ball well and Thompson said he has
progressed since spring practice. Pinkney threw a nice bomb to Bryson
Bowling for a 40-yard score and hit Bowling again with a precise strike on a
fade route to the corner of the West endzone.
Troth said he improved from Wednesday from the standpoint
that he wasn't putting as much pressure on himself.
"I was kind of in the middle today," Troth said. "I made
some good throws and made some bad throws. My performance could have been
better. I didn't make the same mistakes I did last scrimmage. I just have to
come out and improve on the mistakes I made today.
"As an offense, we just have to punch it in there. The first
team needs to step up like the second team did today."
The Pirates in general and the offense in particular are
works in progress.
"We're a long way from where we expect to be," Troth said.
"A lot of people may come out here and think that we're coming along really
good or we're a lot better but we have high expectations for ourselves and
we're nowhere near where we should be. So I think we're halfway there,
Troth credited the performance of the running backs.
"Kevin and Robert are coming along great," he said. "I think
they've got so much energy and they want to do so well. The main focus is
just holding on to the ball. I think both of those guys had fumbles today
but that's nothing we can't correct. Coach Mac will get them in there and
work on that. They just have a lot of talent. Kevin's more power and
Robert's more finesse.
"With those two and Vonta leading the way, I think we have
good replacements for Art because somebody's going to have to step up."
Tillman said his effort wasn't affected by his miscues.
"I fumbled the ball but I was still running hard," Tillman
said. "Our team was behind me. We've got a good offensive line blocking for
me so I give most of the credit to them but I think I did alright. I've just
got a couple of corrections I've got to make — hold onto the ball a little
"It's not really more pressure on me with Art out. I've got
people in front of me so we all work hard together. Whoever goes in, goes in
and we see what we can do. It is an opportunity. If the coach puts me in, I
have too run hard, step up and do my job. With my line blocking, hopefully
I'll do good."
The offense lost three fumbles, which could be a source of
concern. Three turnovers for the offense is three takeaways for the defense,
which is a problem inherent in evaluating scrimmages.\
Pinkney completed a higher percentage of passes than Troth.
Pinkney, a redshirt freshman wearing No. 9 — David Garrard's old number,
completed six of 13 for 93 yards. Troth completed seven of 20 for 86 yards.
Neither threw an interception, which has to be a positive sign for the
Pirates after 22 pickoffs last season.
Transfer Patrick Dosh, who will sit out this season after
spending a year in the program at Florida, also got some reps at
quarterback. Dosh has a willingness to run but his scrambling was curtailed
by quick whistles whenever the defense got near the quarterbacks. The
defense wasn't supposed to hit the quarterbacks, who wore gold jerseys. The
offense wore white and was on the north side. The defense, which worked from
the south sideline, wore purple and the direction of defensive coordinator
Jerry Odom could easily be heard in the nearly-empty stadium.
Around 1,000 fans, players, coaches and officials were fed
at the "Meet the Pirates" barbecue and chicken dinner after the scrimmage
under the north stands, the largest number the preseason event has ever
attracted. Big crowds are anticipated for a home schedule that includes West
Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville and Southern Miss. Temporary stands are
being erected at the East end of the stadium that will expand capacity by
about 3,500 to 46,500.
The Pirates checked out of the City Hotel and Bistro on
Sunday after 10 days of rooming together and riding buses to practice.
Thompson's aim was to develop team unity. He had the players change
roommates after five days to give them an opportunity to get to know each
other players better.
"I think it's worked really well," Thompson said. "I've
stayed at the hotel, too, and I've gotten to know these guys at 6:35 in the
morning when they come down for breakfast. It's been a situation where we
knew they were resting and eating right."
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