Todd Fitch's job as East Carolina's
offensive coordinator involves finding a starting quarterback and making
sure he's "coached up" during a demanding 2007 season.
Spring practice has kept the newest
addition to Coach Skip Holtz's staff busy.
Fitch, of course, has worked with Holtz
at Connecticut and South Carolina for a total of 10 years. When former
ECU tight ends and special teams coach Don Yanowsky left the Pirates to
become an assistant at Boston College, Holtz reshuffled responsibilities
among his staff and brought in Fitch from Iowa State.
Spring ball has been a bit of an
adventure, with hail shortening Wednesday's workout and a variety of
personnel decisions to be made as ECU gets ready for a non-conference
schedule that includes North Carolina and N.C. State in Greensville as
well as Virginia Tech and West Virginia on the road.
"I think it's going well," Fitch said.
"We're a little beyond the halfway point. We've kind of had an agenda on
offense on what we're trying to get done. The first controlled scrimmage
was Friday and we were very one-dimensional for a couple of different
The Pirates emphasized the running game
in the initial scrimmage, an element that has the potential to take some
pressure off an inexperienced quarterback.
"Of the nine practices, I've only
walked off the field one time saying, 'I don't think we've gotten better
today,' " Fitch said. "You don't want to have one of 'em, but that's
pretty good. They've worked hard. We've made some progress. We still
have a ways to go. The next few scrimmages will be a real good
indication of where we're at in terms of the total offensive package and
what we really need to focus on."
The Pirates released an
updated depth chart on Wednesday
and sophomore Rob Kass is listed as the top quarterback. Kass saw action
in relief of James Pinkney in the PapaJohns.com Bowl, completing 10 of
19 passes without an interception for 138 yards.
Kass' back-up at present is the shared
status of soph Brett Clay and junior Patrick Pinkney.
"Obviously, you had a player here in
(James) Pinkney, who had played a lot of football, and not much
experience behind him so that's been one of our main objectives," Fitch
said. "So we've kind of been splitting those guys. Everybody's getting a
look. Everybody's getting a shake to see what they can do.
"I think Rob Kass has done a nice job
and he has probably the best understanding of everything in the offense.
He and Brett Clay are both very good mentally, and Patrick Pinkney has
done a nice job, too. He has a little bit of game savvy to him when he
gets into competition.
"Those three guys have all shown me
flashes that they can do a few things here and there. Consistency is the
big thing we've talked about with them — making sure we do it the same
way over and over. Really the biggest thing with Clay and Pinkney —
because they have even less game experience than Rob — is to avoid the
mistake that gets us beat.
"You're going to make some mistakes out
there. We're young, we're inexperienced, but the mistakes we do make
have to be ones that we can live with and go from there. We'll know a
lot more about those guys I think in the next two weeks because ...
we're going to put them in some more situations where they gotta make
some more difficult plays in scrimmage situations.
"We've done it every day in practice,
obviously, so we'll have a better gauge of where we're at with the
passing game and quarterback decision making."
ECU's passing game has provided 64
percent of the offensive yards over the last five seasons. The Pirates
haven't had a 1,000-plus yards rusher since Marvin Townes in 2003. Part
of that is attributable to the emergence of James Pinkney as a passer.
But now that Pinkney is gone, adjustments must be made.
"We want to be physical," Fitch said.
"We know we have to run the ball to win consistently. That's one of the
areas we wanted to address coming off of last year's team. Some of our
better players are our running backs to be honest. We have a couple of
guys back there who are running the ball pretty well for us right now."
Rising senior Chris Johnson, who
averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season, and rising junior Dominique
Lindsay, who averaged 4.9, are both listed first team on the depth
chart. Redshirt freshman Norman Whitley is third team.
Johnson's speed has been his biggest
asset but Fitch noted that his running style has displayed some change.
"(Johnson and Lindsay) are the guys
taking the top two reps right now," Fitch said. "They both had really
good days last Friday. Chris probably ran a little more physical than
he's run here in the past from what the coaches were saying. We know he
has speed. We know he has breakaway speed.
"He and Dominique were doing a really
nice job for us so we're looking to grow and let those guys get
confidence in themselves — let them get on track and get a little rhythm
in their running style and get 'em both involved in the game plan.
They're two of our better players right now."
Lindsay's performance got stronger
during last Friday's scrimmage.
"His first couple of runs were just
OK," Fitch said. "But as he got into a groove and got a little bit more
lathered up, he had some nice runs as the scrimmage went on. I was
pleased with his effort on the day."
The running game will depend on the
continued maturation of the offensive line.
"Offensive line-wise, we're trying to
let those guys get comfortable, let them get in a rhythm and be coming
off the ball and get a little confidence in themselves," Fitch said.
"That's something we'll continue the rest of spring. ... We've got the
makings of a good, young offensive line. Coach (Steve) Shankweiler has
done a great job with those guys in spring so far. We have some guys in
there who give us an opportunity to be physical."
ECU loses standout receiver Aundrae
Allison but Phillip Henry and Steven Rogers return. There are also some
promising new pass targets. Tight end Davon Drew has impressed Fitch.
There has been an expressed goal of getting more production from the
tight end corps this season.
Fitch is optimistic about the offensive
outlook in 2007 and will find out more about his unit's potential in
another scrimmage on Friday. The Purple-Gold game is April 14.
"I think a lot of people will think
that with what we lost offensively that we'll struggle, but I've got
great faith in these guys," said ECU's offensive coordinator. "They want
to be great football players. I think the skill that we lost will be
filled with people who come out and compete and are able to go out and
scrap and make plays."