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View from the 'ville
Thursday, April 12, 2007

By Al Myatt

Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part series in which Al Myatt looks ahead to East Carolina's 2007 football schedule and sizes up the spring status of the Pirates' opponents. Part two was published on April 19 and can be viewed by clicking here.

Never too soon to peer down the gauntlet

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 as well.

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 gone.

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 utilized.

Other players switching positions include Joey Bozich to fullback, Anthony Parker-Boyd to running back, Deunta Williams to defensive back and Nick Starcevic to defensive end.

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 on Saturday.

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 game.

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 seven carries.

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 Saturday.

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 season.

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 secondary.

UCF opens at N.C. State on Sept. 1, which means ECU coaches can watch that tape and prepare for two opponents.

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04/19/2007 03:37:55 AM


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