Skip Holtz has tailored his offensive
system to the talent on hand in his first two seasons as coach at East
"Your talent determines
what you can do," as his dad, the colorful and respected Lou Holtz, has
In terms of football philosophy, the
apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.
It's safe to assume that talent will
continue to determine ECU's style, but don't look for the Pirates to
rely as heavily on a spread passing attack in years to come. Effectively
implementing such a system requires an exceptional quarterback and James
Pinkney will not be there for ECU after three years of performing in
Obviously, the competition between
quarterbacks Rob Kass, Brett Clay and Patrick Pinkney in the upcoming
spring workouts will be vital to the program's future.
Through recruiting, Holtz and staff
have been steadily acquiring the tools which will allow some tinkering
with the offensive scheme. The approach may eventually produce a more
powerful and efficient attack.
The groundwork has been laid for a more
productive ground game than the one that averaged a rather meager 115.5
yards per game last season. East Carolina ranked 85th out of 119 teams
in Division I-A in 2006. ECU averaged just 3.3 yards per rush.
The Pirates ran the ball on 450 snaps
last season and threw it 430 times, a virtually even balance. The ratio
actually may have been even closer since Pinkney occasionally scrambled
and was credited with a rush when a pass play had been called.
ECU ran on 51 percent of its offensive
plays last season, but Holtz ideally would like for that figure to be
closer to 60 percent.
Holtz refers to the work in progress
with the offensive line as building the foundation for the program. That
foundation should be in the best shape in quite some time as the Pirates
get ready to start spring practice next Wednesday.
"We have been working hard to build our
offensive line," Holtz said. "Right now, we have 12 players going into
spring practice — not counting the freshmen — that have a chance to
compete for the two deep. I haven't been able to say that since I've
If the Pirates become more effective up
front, that can change ECU's overall offensive capabilities.
"If we can build that offensive line,
you'll start to see a whole lot more of a two-back offense where you're
trying to get the ball in those athletes' hands," said the Pirates
coach. "It's a lot easier to hand it to 'em than to throw it to 'em. I
haven't seen anybody intercept a handoff lately."
February, 2007 signing class will
give Holtz greater flexibility in terms of personnel groupings and sets.
Holtz said that injuries left ECU without the personnel to run a two
tight end set in the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, which restricted
play selection against South Florida, particularly in the red zone.
The Pirates signed tight ends and power
backs among the incoming players, which will provide a greater range of
options than has existed thus far in the Holtz era at ECU.
The ability to change or expand systems
is a product of recruiting and this weekend will be an important in
terms of future recruiting for the Pirates as they host "Junior Day."
"We'll have a large number of players
in this state on this campus," Holtz said. "The recruiting for next
year's class is already a year old."
Then the focus of the ECU staff, which
new quarterbacks coach Todd Fitch,
will shift to the window of player development provided for in spring
Fitch's new assignment at East Carolina
will mark a reunion with Holtz as the pair worked together for a total
of 10 seasons, five each at Connecticut and South Carolina beginning in
"Todd brings a wealth of experience to
East Carolina and we're excited to have him join our Pirate family,"
Holtz said in a release this week. "There's certainly a comfort level
there when you've spent 10 years working with someone. He's made a
significant impact everywhere he has been, and I've been fortunate
enough to see it in person twice."
Phil Petty will shift from quarterbacks
coach to working with ECU's tight ends. Holtz credited Petty's
contributions as Pinkney's position mentor and expects similar
development with the tight ends as the staff was reorganized following
the exit of former ECU assistant Don Yanowsky.
"Our program will benefit greatly by
Phil having the same impact with our young tight ends (as quarterbacks),
which as we discovered late in the year, is a position critical to our
success, especially in the redzone," Holtz said.
Holtz indicated that the reassignment
of Petty could have important implications for the former South Carolina
quarterback's future in coaching.
"I feel this opportunity for him is a
win-win situation for all of us as our tight ends will be in the hands
of energetic leadership and Phil will be in a strategic position to
continue his climb toward being one of the nation's young, bright and
well-rounded offensive coordinators of tomorrow," Holtz said.
Linebacker Pierre Bell, linebacker
Quentin Cotton and tight end Jay Sonnhalter will not be participating in
spring practice due to injuries. Bell and Cotton are both recovering
from shoulder surgery. Sonnhalter has a foot ailment.
"This spring there will be a great
competition on the offensive line," Holtz said. "There are 11 or 12 guys
who are in there competing for the 10 spots. On the defensive line,
there are 10 players who are continuing to compete for who those
starters will be. Almost all of them played last year.
"When you start talking about Zach
Slate, Marcus Hands, C.J. Wilson and Scotty Robinson. Those guys will
continue to develop and compete for those jobs on the defensive front.
"With both Pierre Bell and Quentin
Cotton missing spring, I think it's going to give the opportunity for
some of the younger linebackers to step in and have the opportunity to
prove they belong in the two deep (depth chart). I think there's going
to be a scurry at wide receiver and defensive back with guys trying to
get their feet into one of those spots because we lost so many players
at those positions.
"There's going to be a lot of
competition at the skill positions. On the offensive and defensive line
I think the two deeps are set. It's just going to be a little bit more
about who's going to be on one and who's going to be on No. 2."