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View from the 'ville
Thursday, August 14, 2008

By Al Myatt

New chip born; RB void gets bigger

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Chris Johnson has just started to show what he can do as the first round draft choice of the Tennessee Titans. Johnson had a 66-yard scoring run in his team's 34-13 exhibition win over the St. Louis Rams on Saturday.

The play was presented as the top highlight on ESPN's SportsCenter on Sunday, earning that distinction over a collection of spectacular baseball and Olympic moments.

While Johnson opened his pro career with a spectacular play that was typical of his performance at the close of his East Carolina career, Johnson is indirectly continuing to boost the Pirates program. Despite taking his zip to the NFL, he's part of a new "chip" at ECU.

The Pirates have long been noted for being at their best when carrying a chip on their shoulder. Almost eight months after Johnson piled up an NCAA record 408 all-purpose yards in ECU's dramatic 41-38 Hawaii Bowl win over Boise State, the program has become a little sensitive about the media's perception of the effect his graduation to the pros will have on the 2008 Pirates.

"Every magazine I've read," said running back Dominique Lindsay on media day of the hype regarding Johnson's departure. "That's like a challenge to me and the other guys saying, 'Who's going to step up, who's going to fill in, who's going to step in his shoes?'

"We're putting it on our shoulders. If one person can't do it, we'll do it by committee but somehow we've got to get it done. It kind of motivates you a lot because it seems like the media doesn't know who you are unless you're a big-name guy.

"I never have a problem with it because I know what I'm capable of doing and I know what my teammates are capable of doing."

Injuries compound loss of C.J.

The latest news release on preseason practice from the ECU athletic media relations department indicates that ball-carrying production will be up to Lindsay's teammates as the season opener with Virginia Tech at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Saturday, August 30, approaches. The non-conference contest, which kicks off at noon, will be shown on ESPN.

Lindsay's impact during his senior season was put into question with the practice report on Wednesday evening that he faces knee surgery and will be out for an unspecified duration after an injury in practice on Tuesday night. The news was even worse for defensive lineman Brandon Setzer, who is expected to be out for the season for knee surgery.

Lindsay has averaged 4.2 yards per carry in three seasons as a Pirate with six touchdowns rushing and one receiving. His absence means ECU's ground game faces another personnel loss to overcome.

Pinkney, Palmer optimistic

"Each year every team is different," said senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney on media day. "Somebody has to step up and I think we have that mindset that we're going to fill that void and all of our running backs are going to have a great year.

"People think that they're not going to do what Chris Johnson did. They don't have to. As long as we get five, 10 yards a pop, we're fine. Everybody's got to stick together and just play as a team."

Pinkney is ECU's leading returning rusher with 306 net yards in 2007. The running back committee now includes junior college transfer J.R. Rogers, plus lettermen Brandon Simmons, Jonathan Williams and Norman Whitley. Darnell Ballard, a 5-foot-7, 190-pound walk-on junior, also got some snaps with the second unit offense on Wednesday.

Pinkney, who completed 60.5 percent of his passes last season for 1,358 yards with 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions, said the passing game is capable of compensating for the potential loss of production in the ground game.

"I think we can go vertical more and I think that's going to open our offense up more," Pinkney said. "We get that vertical game going and that will be a big help to our offense."

The Pirates also have a committee of potential big play wide receivers that includes Dwayne Harris, Jamar Bryant, Reyn Willis, Darryl Freeney and Alex Taylor. Pinkney said the receivers got faster in summer workouts.

Offensive guard Doug Palmer, an All-Conference USA preseason selection, is confident despite Johnson's departure to the NFL.

"We're going to miss Chris with those long runs," Palmer said. "Every time you block, if he was in front of you, you might as well let your block go and just watch a touchdown. But I think we're going to be all right – not having Chris – because we've got some talented backs.

"We've got some talented receivers and last year we really didn't throw it that much because we had Chris running all the time. We should get a lot out of our passing game this year."

Hokies in similar boat

To a degree, Virginia Tech has faced a similar situation at running back with the dismissal of Brandon Ore from the Hokies program following his junior season. Ore ran 992 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in 2007. In a 24-21 Orange Bowl loss to Kansas, he rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

ECU coach Skip Holtz said the Pirates haven't overhauled their offensive scheme with Johnson's departure. There is a lot of flexibility within the ECU package to allow for changes in personnel.

"It will still be pretty much the same thing," Holtz said. "If you look at the versatility of what this offensive staff has put together. We've got two backs, two tight ends ... I think we'll start to see different formations utilized a little bit more.

"The offense will remain pretty much the same as it was. We may highlight different phases and not get it to the same guy as many times."

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08/14/2008 02:38:14 AM


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