Insights and Observations
Friday, August 11, 2006
By Henry Hinton
Pirates' fortunes tied to
rise of newcomers
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excitement surrounding the East Carolina football program, it is hard to
understand how the league coaches could pick the Pirates to finish dead last
in their division of Conference USA.
Beating four teams in the
conference in 2005, and losing close games to Memphis and Central Florida
should have brought ECU more respect this season.
Skip Holtz has taken the
right attitude toward that news.
“I don’t mind being
picked last at the beginning of the season. That’s where they see us. I just
don’t want to be there at the end of the season,” Holtz said last Saturday
in ECU's media day press conference.
Still, that pre-season
poll has left most people following the Pirates' progress under Holtz
scratching their heads. It’s even been suggested that there could be some
sort of an agenda in the conference. Respect in Conference USA has been hard
to come by for the Pirate program.
Most likely it is a lack
of knowledge of the way Holtz and his staff have gone about rebuilding the
Early reports from camp
indicate some of the new players on the team could play a significant role.
While Chris Johnson,
Brandon Fractious and Dominique Lindsey are expected to elevate their game
at running back this fall, there has been a buzz about true freshman Norman
Whitley. Listening between the lines to Holtz on Saturday, it almost seems
like the head coach is expecting Whitley to play a significant role this
season, particularly in the latter part of the year.
It remains to be seen if
Whitley — who according to
an ECU practice report is currently
nursing a bothersome shoulder — will be a red-shirt. If I were a betting
man, I would say no.
Holtz also hinted that
the number of horses in the running back stable might dictate that there
will be two backs on the field at the same time often this fall.
ECU should have lots of
offensive weapons in the skilled positions. Another newcomer is wide
receiver Jamar Bryant. One can only imagine the fear of opposing defensive
coordinators if ECU finds a way to put both Bryant and Aundrae Allison on
the field at the same time.
In fact, the coaches have
been experimenting with four receiver sets in practice.
The big question mark
continues to be the offensive line. Steve Shankweiler has proven in years
past that he can work miracles even when the talent level is a bit low. He
may have to do it again this year.
By his own admission,
Holtz says one of the problems in 2005 was the inability to move people off
the line in short yardage situations. That was a frequent theme on both
sides of the ball.
Often ECU would find
themselves with third and short and the coaches would not have the
confidence to dominate the line to get the first down. The same thing
occurred on the other side of the ball. Many times the defense would be
unable to stop a short run on third down.
The answer most likely
comes in off-season conditioning and strength training. Holtz has great
confidence in strength coach Mike Golden.
“The players both respect
and fear him,” says Holtz. That’s the sign of a good coach in the weight
Holtz acknowledges the
quarterback back-up situation is up for grabs as practice begins. He
indicated last Saturday that red-shirt freshman Brett Clay is considered
number two behind James Pinkney right now.
Clay did not do anything
to hurt his rank in a practice earlier this week. The highlight of the
Tuesday session was a 60-yard scoring pass from Clay to Fractious in third
and long drills.
Losing Chris Moore and
Richard Koonce at linebacker will create a need for Greg Hudson and the
defensive staff to test some of the new talent as well.
The defense will be
anchored by defensive end Marcus Hands, an all conference choice from last
Practice is in full
swing. Pirate football is here.
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This page updated
04/21/08 07:01 PM.