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View from the 'ville
Thursday, February 22, 2007

By Al Myatt

Ground game poised for bigger role

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Skip Holtz has tailored his offensive system to the talent on hand in his first two seasons as coach at East Carolina.

"Your talent determines what you can do," as his dad, the colorful and respected Lou Holtz, has said.

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 that role.

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 been here."

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."

The recent 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 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 includes new quarterbacks coach Todd Fitch, will shift to the window of player development provided for in spring practice.

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 1994.

"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."

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02/23/2007 12:29:09 AM


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