College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Thursday, March 25, 2004
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
No baloney — spring fling
East Carolina’s spring football game will change its focus from last year
when the event was reinstated by new coach John Thompson. In 2003, the
seniors drafted players for the teams and the winners got steaks served by
the losers at the post spring practice meal.
After a 1-11 season, the urgency of improvement is being seriously
addressed. Thompson wanted to have some fun and involve the fan base last
year. He still wants to accomplish those elements but now the emphasis is
more on football and the approach is more direct. Some of the peripheral
fanfare as it relates to football for the Great Purple-Gold Pigskin Pig-Out is
history for the time being.
Thompson said Wednesday at a news conference to update spring practice and
promote the Purple-Gold game that the players should have enough pride for
the contest to be competitive without the extraneous aspects of baloney for
the losers or steak for the winning team.
Pirate personnel will have to worry about eating their words for now.
“They’ll probably be some trash talking,” Thompson said. “The coaches are
already talking some trash.”
Thompson may use food as motivation for a scrimmage after the spring game.
The Pirates have three workouts scheduled the week following the Purple-Gold
game before spring practice concludes on April 1.
The teams will be divided into first unit offense and second unit defense on
one sideline on Saturday, and first unit defense and second unit offense on
“That’s for continuity,” said the Pirates coach.
The offensive line, which sustained significant graduation losses, in
particular needs to play together as a unit and develop. Charlie Dempsey has
emerged as a leader on the blocking front under new coach Robert McFarland,
who is troubled for the moment by kidney stones. Gary Freeman and center
Hagen Mason, also drew praise from Thompson.
“The offensive line is where it all starts and Coach McFarland has been
doing a great job,” Thompson said.
ECU appears to be a program that is moving forward by learning a new
offensive system and taking lessons from its mistakes. While the players
were on spring break last week, the Pirates coaches broke down tape of a
March 11 scrimmage and missed assignments were corrected when the players
returned to practice on Tuesday.
New offensive coordinator Noah Brindise, who coached quarterbacks for the
Washington Redskins the last two seasons, has incorporated elements of Steve
Spurrier’s “Fun ’n’ Gun” attack as well as aspects of the West Coast offense
of former Redskins offensive coordinator Hugh Jackson into ECU’s new system.
The design accents unpredictability, power running and the deep ball.
“It was the toughest offense to prepare for when I was a defensive
coordinator,” Thompson said.
ECU wanted to put forth those various elements last season but a slew of
early-season turnovers forced a retreat to a more conservative style.
With Brindise at the controls, the Pirates will have seven or eight
personnel groupings on offense and at least 25 formations, he said. And
unlike last season when ECU went into preseason practice with the
quarterback position unresolved, rising sophomore James Pinkney has
separated himself as the starter at this point.
“If we were starting the season today, he would be our guy,” Brindise said
of Pinkney. “We’d be going with James. He separated himself the last three
or four practices before the break and (Tuesday) he had another good
practice. He’s the leader. Right now he’s working with the first team and
he’s going to until somebody beats him out. ...
“He’s impressed me with his smarts,” Brindise said. “I didn’t know how smart
he was because he doesn’t talk much, but he really has impressed me with his
knowledge. He’s a very, very natural, pure passer. He’s always thrown a good
ball. We just had to speed him up a little bit and get him understanding our
offense. He’s done a good job doing those things.”
Pinkney’s scrimmage numbers on Wednesday were super — 13 for 16 passing for
327 yards and five touchdowns — the effort coming against the first and
second defensive units. He had 70-yard scoring passes to rising soph Robert
Tillman and rising senior Damarcus Fox.
“I think we’re going to put up a lot of points and make the defense play
hard on Saturday,” Pinkney said.
The quarterbacks, which also include 2003 starter Desmond Robinson and
transfer Patrick Dosh, may rotate with different units on Saturday.
Running back Art Brown, who ran for over 1,000 yards in 2002 but missed last
season with a knee injury, is being held out of spring ball to allow him to
get back to full strength. He is attending spring practices and learning
Brindise’s system. An injury to Marvin Townes, another returning 1,000-plus
yard rusher, has allowed Tillman to get a lot more snaps this spring.
Thompson said Townes could probably be ready to play if this was a game week
in the fall but because he has already proven his capabilities, he is being
given more time to recover.
“They should hit the ground running (in August),” Brindise said of Brown and
Townes. “ ... As far as learning it, they should already know it. We can
kind of focus on our pass game right now and know that when those two guys
come back, the focus of our offense will probably shift a little bit towards
Brindise said ECU has some players who are talented enough to play for
Florida, where Brindise played quarterback and worked on Spurrier’s staff
before moving to the NFL with the innovative former Gators coach.
Fox has been impressive, as has junior college tight end Shawn Levesque.
Offensive tackle Joel Renaud, another juco addition, has size and moves
well. Brindise said fullback Jermarcus Veal, a converted linebacker, as was
his predecessor Vonta Leach, has the ability “to blow people up”
with his lead blocking.
“There’s some talent here,” Brindise said. “We’re trying to figure out who
our best 11 are and throw ’em out there.”
Saturday’s spring game will be another important step in the evaluation
process for the Pirate coaches.
There will be a lot going on this weekend. “The Coastline Band” performs on
Friday night. A fashion show at the Murphy Center beginning at 10 a.m. on
Saturday morning is a new addition to the occasion and will feature some of
the coaches’ wives. There will be carnival rides on Friday night and
Saturday and, of course, the pig cooking contest. ECU’s softball team plays
DePaul on Saturday and Sunday.
“I think our players will get jazzed up a little bit,” Thompson said.
“Seeing the crowd — and what an unbelievable crowd we had last year — with
all the people that come here and with everything going on, our players will
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