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View from the 'ville
Thursday, February 1, 2007

By Al Myatt

On deck: Signing day and baseball

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

This is a time of year when the sports scene at East Carolina resembles a three-ring circus in terms of activities that command the attention of the Pirate Nation.

Football signing date is coming up on Wednesday, Feb. 7, the baseball season opener with Liberty is Friday, Feb. 9, and basketball continues its quest for its first Conference USA win of the season at Rice on Saturday night.

Those that follow football recruiting closely say that coach Skip Holtz and staff are putting together one of the best recruiting classes ever for the Pirates. Signing date has become an event in itself.

One factor that enhances the signing of top recruits is the proven ability of a program to develop players for the NFL. For exceptional high school players whose aspirations lie beyond college, the pages of the media guide devoted to former players in the NFL can be an influential selling point.

Last year, offensive lineman Guy Whimper of the Pirates made the New York Giants roster. Former ECU standout David Garrard is emerging as a winning quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Vonta Leach started five games for the Houston Texans at fullback after stops at Green Bay and New Orleans in his third NFL season. Rod Coleman, now with the Atlanta Falcons, has become one of the league's premier defensive ends.

The presence of those players in the pros makes prep performers realize that Greenville can be a takeoff point to the next level. That makes it easier for Holtz and staff to get the signatures of those high school stars on letters of intent.

Several of ECU's seniors from the 2006 bowl team have the potential to continue their careers on Sundays. Quarterback James Pinkney and receiver Aundrae Allison will be in Indianapolis for the pro combine beginning on Feb. 21.

Pinkney has the raw tools to quarterback in the NFL in terms of size, strength and passing ability. The question on Pinkney, according to a source in communication with an NFL director of player development, is his ability to grasp and direct a sophisticated pro offense and avoid the occasional mistakes that have characterized his college career.

In fairness to Pinkney's stage of development, he did not have consistent coaching in college. He was signed by Steve Logan's staff and then played for John Thompson and Holtz. He had four different offensive coordinators while at ECU. He missed a significant learning opportunity by being academically ineligible during the Pirates' first spring practice after Holtz arrived.

Still, there were times when he was very effective in operating ECU's offense, times when his leadership was readily apparent and times — such as the Bowl — when his play was plagued by misreads and inconsistency.

Pinkney projects as a possible late round draft choice. He could obviously help himself with a good showing in Indianapolis, which would help dispel some concerns raised by his play against Tulsa and South Florida this past season.

Allison didn't finish the season in overwhelming fashion with just three catches for 24 yards in the bowl game. There was speculation that he was concerned about getting hurt before he had his shot at the pros and that he didn't put forth full effort in preparing for the bowl or in the game itself.

Allison's talent and tools are obvious but there are apparently questions about his work ethic and attitude. Still, he looks like a third or fourth round pick, who could possibly move up even higher with a favorable combine.

Offensive lineman Eric Graham and punter Ryan Dougherty also are expected to get looks in pro camps even if they are signed as free agents rather than draft choices. Graham has size and experience on the college level but questions about his agility made one pro source say he has a better chance to make it as a offensive guard rather than at tackle at the next level.

Graham made 11 starts at left tackle for ECU in 2006. He opened the bowl game at left guard after missing the N.C. State game with a knee injury. Those who evaluate tape of the 2006 West Virginia game will see Graham make eight knockdown blocks. That's a strong effort against a high quality opponent.

Dougherty's calling card is his versatility, according to one evaluator of college talent. Not only can Dougherty punt for good hang time and distance, he could also kick off and he has experience as a placekick holder. His athleticism adds the dimension of potential fakes any time he touches the ball.

Cornerback Kasey Ross may get a look at the next level but questions regarding the 6-foot, 180-pound Ross deal primarily with his size.

The pro scouts see prospects' strengths and weaknesses. That's their job. A frank analysis of players' pro potential in no way diminishes their contributions in getting the ECU program turned around.

As Holtz has said, ECU's success in 2006 was generated "by a group of seniors who were tired of losing."

It also should be taken into account that pro scouts tend to play a little poker in their comments about college prospects. They may run down players they really like so as not to enhance their draft stock. Increasing a player's desirability at draft time is not their objective. If scouts really like a player, they want him to be available when it's their club's turn to pick. So they avoid building him up in terms of their public comments.

Liberty baseball glance

Liberty coach Matt Royer enters his fifth season with the program after guiding the Flames to 39-21 mark and the Big South championship game in 2006. Liberty’s win total was the highest in school history at the Division I level.

The Flames are picked fifth in the Big South Conference this season. Returning players to watch include first baseman Aaron Grijalva and left-handed pitcher Ryan Page.

Grijalva hit .347 last season with seven home runs and 51 RBIs. He was successful on 23 of 24 stolen base attempts.

Page was 9-2 in 2006 with a 3.59 earned run average.

In search of a hoops win

It's difficult to say if the glass is half full or half empty after ECU's 56-52 loss at Marshall on Wednesday night. Detractors may point out that the Pirates shot just 21 percent in the first half in setting a record for fewest points in a half at the Henderson Center (17).

Still, ECU was up by 11 in rebounding margin at the break and managed to play competitively with the Herd on the road despite dropping to 0-7 in Conference USA with its 14th loss in the last 15 games.

"We're still looking for our first conference win so we're trying to do things on a more consistent basis," said Pirates coach Ricky Stokes at the outset of the week. "We have been able to play for short periods of time. The road is always a difficult place to go looking for a win."

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02/23/2007 12:29:06 AM


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