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
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 Papajohns.com 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
Page was 9-2 in 2006 with a 3.59 earned
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."