Spring football practice is about
becoming a better team. Priorities at East Carolina this year have
included an emphasis on improving the ground game, boosting the pass
rush and replacing personnel in the secondary.
As ECU coaches were scheduled to draft
players on Wednesday night for Saturday's Purple-Gold game, the 12
teams that the Pirates will line up against in 2007, beginning Sept.
1 at Virginia Tech, have been about the business of spring practice
Here's the first of a two-part
series, an offseason look at upcoming opponents and some thoughts
about what's in store for the Pirates:
At Virginia Tech (Sept. 1)
Eight starters return on both sides
of the ball for the Hokies but there are still some voids to fill,
especially on special teams where two kickers and a long snapper are
On the offensive line, there have
been some position changes with Ryan Shuman moving to center and
Duane Brown moving to left tackle. Sergio Render, a starter, has not
been involved in contact due to knee surgery in January.
Defensively, a good battle has
developed for a starting job at defensive end where Noland Burchette
played. Lineman Chris Ellis was out after shoulder surgery. Coach
Frank Beamer's main concern was developing depth up front and at
linebacker. In the secondary, the Hokies lost a pair of rover backs
and some strong competition is going on there.
Rising junior quarterback Sean
Glennon missed the initial spring workouts but completed 10 of 16
passes for 76 yards in the first scrimmage on Tuesday.
From an execution standpoint, the
Hokies did not lose a fumble in 69 plays and there were only two
penalties — two offsides infractions on the defense. All-ACC running
back Brandon Ore did not play in the scrimmage.
Tech's first unit defense saw
limited action but the offense didn't score. Every time the offense
got inside the defense's 30-yard line, Beamer flipped the field.
It would be nice if Tech's first
unit defense watched on Labor Day weekend but that won't be the
case. Quite a challenge will be in store for ECU's quarterback in
his first start. The Pirates could benefit if the Hokies are looking
ahead to a game at LSU the following week.
North Carolina (Sept. 8)
Speculation about who among the Tar
Heels might jump to the NBA, a highly-ranked baseball team and new
coach Butch Davis' own precautionary chemotherapy treatment seem to
have obscured spring drills to a degree in Chapel Hill.
Davis has been "hands on" in his
style, according to reports.
The biggest news from the Navy
practice fields is that former quarterback Joe Dailey has moved to
receiver, where Davis feels his athleticism can be more effectively
Other players switching positions
include Joey Bozich to fullback, Anthony Parker-Boyd to running
back, Deunta Williams to defensive back and Nick Starcevic to
The Tar Heels have an inexperienced
group of running backs and face the prospect of shoring up a defense
that was 104th of 119 Division I-A teams in scoring defense,
allowing 30.5 points per game. The offense, which averaged 18.0
points, was 99th nationally.
There's obviously some work to do
for the Heels in terms of learning new schemes, but more importantly
the program needs to develop confidence following a 3-9 season.
North Carolina will open at home against James Madison, which should
get the Davis era started with a win. Playing in Greenville the
following week should be a tougher assignment.
Southern Miss (Sept. 15)
The Golden Eagles are working with
limited depth on the offensive line with the departure of three
seniors and injuries to three other players. The injured offensive
linemen include junior tackle Ryan McKee (foot), senior tackle
Dwayne Paulin (shoulder) and redshirt sophomore Micah Brown (foot).
Lack of depth and experience up
front didn't stop rising sophomore Damion Fletcher from running for
177 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in the Golden Eagles'
second spring scrimmage.
Southern Miss has its spring game
The Golden Eagles are 13-2 in
Greenville and their trip to ECU this year may seem like welcome
solace in between road games at Tennessee and Boise State.
At West Virginia (Sept. 22)
The Mountaineers wrapped up their
spring session with their spring game last Saturday.
Star tailback Steve Slaton was on
the sideline after surgery on his right wrist, and new Mountaineers
offensive line coach Greg Frey wasn't able to get a total grasp of
his personnel because of injuries.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez expressed
dissatisfaction with the offense during the spring. Rodriguez, who
stayed at his alma mater despite a very attractive offer from
Alabama, doesn't plan to release a depth chart until the week prior
to the season.
The WVU coaches will apparently
push the envelope on playing time at a number of spots to fall camp,
where Rodriguez said his staff will monitor players' mindsets and
conditioning following summer workouts.
WVU threw 55 passes in its spring
ECU is 0-11 in Morgantown and will
face a team that has been mentioned as a national championship
contender. WVU should have a run-throw balance that will sternly
challenge the Pirates' improving defense.
At Houston (Sept. 29)
Like the Pirates, the Cougars must
adjust to the departure of a multi-year starter at quarterback.
Blake Joseph and Case Keenum are the top candidates.
Joseph was 16 for 23 for 148 yards
and no touchdowns in last Saturday's spring game while Keenum
connected on 4 of 9 for 143 yards and two scores. Keenum's
touchdowns covered 43 yards to Chris Gilbert and 60 yards to Donnie
Avery. Joseph completed his first five throws and had two passes
dropped in the end zone.
Randall Antoine rushed for 98 yards
on 18 carries with a touchdown coming on the final play of the game.
He also made five catches for 27 yards. Anthony Alridge had eight
carries for 56 yards and Jessie Harrison finished with 35 yards on
The Cougars defense accounted for
six sacks, two interceptions and a touchdown.
Briles said the defense may have to
carry the defending Conference USA champs until Kevin Kolb's
successor settles in. ECU may have to rely on its running game and
defense as well until its young quarterback gets adjusted.
ECU leads the series, which has
been dominated by the visiting teams, 4-3. The Pirates have won
three of four games in Houston and the Cougars have won two of three
in Greenville. The teams haven't played since 2004.
Central Florida (Oct. 6)
Turnovers have been a concern for
Golden Knights coach George O'Leary as the spring game approaches on
Inconsistency has plagued the
Knights in the bigger picture over the last three seasons. The
program has gone from 0-11 in 2004, to 8-5 in 2005 to 4-8 last
Quarterback Kyle Israel and running
back Kevin Smith return but the offense will miss go-to receiver
Mike Walker. Personnel appears capable but the Knights know they
must get more points in the red zone and make more plays in the
UCF opens at N.C. State on Sept. 1,
which means ECU coaches can watch that tape and prepare for two