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Watch for Al Myatt's profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Monday, August 23, 2004

By Al Myatt

Stage set for Pirates to confound pundits

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Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: New Leader Takes Charge

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate


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East Carolina has often been motivated by its desire for respect. The fact that the Pirates are getting very little from those supposedly in the know as the football season approaches could be a motivating factor as ECU desires a boomerang effect from the last campaign's 1-11 showing.

The Conference USA coaches pegged the Pirates 10th on their preseason totem pole, just above Army. Gridiron guru Phil Steele and The Sporting News rate the Pirates in the same spot — tenth — a step ahead of the Cadets.

Athon Sports and Street & Smith's both have the Pirates ninth in the league, ahead of Tulane and Army. has the Pirates making a slight breakthrough into a seventh place tie with South Florida.

All of which is much ado about nothing of great significance to ECU coach John Thompson.

"The only people that really — and I don't mean to slight anybody — but the only people that really matter are the guys that are inside the program," Thompson said. "The expectations that are outside, whether they are positive or negative, really doesn't have any effect on our football team.

"If the expectations were a lot higher, then that's something that we have to deal with. I look forward in the future to having to deal with that. The expectations are not very high right now. That taste in our mouth — that's something that we've got to spit out. It's a bad thing.

"We look forward to exorcising that and spitting that taste out of our mouth and the only way to do that is on the football field and by winning football games. We know we have a lot of respect that must be earned. It's got to be earned. Where this program is is not where it deserves to be.

"We're going to get this thing back and those men back there in those purple jerseys are going to do that — the coaching staff and everybody else. It takes a little bit of everybody to do that."

The factor that is referred to in ECU circles as "the chip" should be squarely in place. That's likely a good thing for the Pirates for the moment, but Thompson's objective is to get the program to a point that it doesn't rely on external slights.

"That's some slight motivation there," Thompson said of ECU's preseason positioning in league polls, "but that's short term. It comes from our heart."

Although the Pirates were beset by turnovers early in 2003 and the defense had a unwelcomed knack for allowing big plays, heart and team spirit were not elements that were questioned.

The greatest accomplishment of Thompson in a transition season was preventing morale from disintegrating.

The arrival of new offensive coordinator Noah Brindise, the return of running back Art Brown, a wave of needed reinforcements from the junior college ranks and greater familiarity between the players and coaches and the application of systems could combine to help ECU defy those who have offered it little respect in the preseason.

"Last season we really didn't know what to expect from the coaches," said senior offensive lineman Charlie Dempsey. "The coaches were new to the players and the players were new to them. Certain situations we kind of know what they're thinking and we kind of know what they're thinking. That can do a lot in terms of winning games."

Brindise has studied under Steve Spurrier at Florida and with the Washington Redskins. Last year the Pirates depended on Marvin Townes off tackle and quick outs to Terrance Copper. ECU became conservative to avoid turnovers with predictability the unfortunate by-product.

The only way in which Brindise's scheme will be predictable is that it will be unpredictable.

"If you saw Spurrier's offense at Florida, this is it," Brown said. "Fun 'n' gun. It's got everything. Handoffs. Wide receiver screens. Reverses. Anything you can think of is in our playbook."

Receiver Kevin Roach said one of Brindise's designs is to spread the safeties and then move receivers into that space.

"If the quarterbacks make reads and receivers make catches, we'll be a very good offensive football team," Roach said. "It took some time to study and learn this offense but there's a reason everybody is where they are all the time."

Pirates stalwart linebacker Chris Moore said another intent is to mismatch a linebacker on a fleet receiver in coverage.

"It's a lot different from what we did offensively last year," Moore said. "It's different from anything I've faced and I've faced a lot of offenses. I'm confident we're going to move the ball and put up points."

Spurrier's approach was always to zig when the opposition thought he would zag. Brindise hasn't fallen far from that tree. And one only has to look at Southern Cal last season to realize the impact that an offensive coordinator — Norm Chow in the Trojans case — can have.

There are question marks about losing four starters on the offensive front but one thing about Brindise's arrival is that the entire unit, coaches included, started on page one with the new system. It hasn't been as if the returning players have been standing around waiting for the rookies to catch on.

Brindise said Saturday before Desmond Robinson completed 15 of 19 in a scrimmage that sophomore James Pinkney would be the projected starter at quarterback on Sept. 4 at West Virginia. Thompson said Pinkney has grasped Brindise's offense. Pinkney, who started the last three games on 2003 when Robinson was injured, has grown in knowledge and confidence.

"I think we're going to have a lot of big plays, put a lot of points on the board, and take a lot of pressure off of the defense to make stops," Pinkney said. "I'm real confident now that the coaches have confidence in me. My teammates have confidence in me as well. I'm ready to get back on the field. I'm ready for Sept. 4 to get here."

Pinkney senses a season that the prognosticators apparently do not.

"Everybody's on the same page," he said. "Everybody wants to play and everybody wants to win. ... I think there's going to be a big turnaround."

Football quick hits

Pirates punter Ryan Dougherty had some anxious moments after Hurricane Charley passed through his hometown of Orlando. He was unable to reach his parents or a brother in Gainesville for two days.

"I tried e-mailing and calling people in the area but nothing worked and I was getting worried," said the preseason All C-USA pick. "I knew it was bad from what I saw on the news."

A phone call from home finally subdued his fears. His folks sustained some property damage but were uninjured.


Coach Thompson is scheduled for a book reading at Barnes & Noble off of Greenville Blvd. at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 28.

"They called and asked if I would do it," Thompson said. "I said 'Yeah.' I think I'm reading something about pirates."


True freshman Chris Johnson was the leading rusher in Saturday's scrimmage with 11 carries for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Thompson has indicated that it's highly unlikely the speedy Johnson will redshirt.

"We've talked to players about getting on the plane and going to play," Thompson said. " ... We want to win now."

Johnson's emergence has resulted in Robert Tillman moving to wide receiver.


Bonesville staff e-mails about the first Bonesville Power Hour Show, which will be heard on Talk 1070 AM and seen on Cable 7 TV, have been flying around like footballs in Brindise's 2-minute drill. There should be some entertaining and informative discussions of issues relating to ECU athletics. Patrick Johnson will host, Bonesville staffers will thrust and parry, and special guests will come calling.

The first show is at 7 p.m. Wednesday. It will precede Coach Thompson's call-in show during the season.


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02/23/2007 12:46:18 AM

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