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View from the 'ville
Friday, April 15, 2011

By Al Myatt

Pirates on display Saturday with spring game

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

A much-awaited sneak preview of the 2011 football season takes place on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with East Carolina's spring football game. It's a cultural event with its peripheral activities, but it will also give the fan base an idea of how some pressing defensive and offensive issues have been addressed during spring practice.

The Pirate Nation will see a slimmer Ruffin McNeill and a three-man front on defense. The fans also will see how the skill personnel shapes up with the loss of receiver Dwayne Harris, running back Jonathan Williams and running back Giavanni Ruffin.

The event is scheduled to get underway at 2:30 p.m.

"You always have some objectives in the spring," said McNeill, who will supervise his second spring game as head coach at his alma mater. "You always try to establish who's going to start and the depth chart. That's still a work in progress but some guys are really stepping up.

" ... There are some things I wanted to get better on as a team. Fundamental emphasis is a priority. People were pleased with our offense but they had a lot of fundamental things to get done. Defensively, we know we had a lot of things to get done."

No one probably cares to be reminded where the Pirates ranked in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season in terms of defense.

"We want to become a smarter football team, a team that doesn't beat itself," said McNeill. "If it's third-and-1 for example on offense and we jump, then now it's third-and-6. If it's third-and-8 and you jump, then you've really got long yardage.

"The next thing is the giveaway-takeaway ratio — making sure we're good at taking the ball away on defense and not giving it away on offense. That way we give our offense more possessions and, offensively, we don't give our defense extra series. That's a key to winning.

"Teams that are successful are smart football teams in the penalty department. They are teams that don't give the ball away on offense and they took the ball away on defense.

"The last thing I wanted to make sure of was that we learned to compete and complete. We want to complete whatever we're doing, whether it's a drill, practice, spring or a game next year. Those have been the points of emphasis and it's gone well. The kids have worked hard. The defensive change has gone well.

"It's not as big an adjustment as people would think. From my standpoint I played for Coach (Pat) Dye and Coach (Frank) Orgel, it was a 3-4 defense. My first college job (at Clemson) with Danny Ford, Tom Harper — it was 3-4 defense. I've run this defense in my past and every defensive coach on my staff, they've been a part of 3-4 defenses. It was an adjustment that we all came to because it best fits our personnel on campus, it best fits the personnel we can recruit and it gives us the best chance to be successful with the leagues and variety of offenses we face."

In a significant position switch on defense, rangy Derek Blacknall has moved from safety to cornerback.

"That may be one of the best moves we've made," McNeill said.

Returning quarterback Dominique Davis has been refining his understanding and execution of the offense.

"Dominique has come back and found things he needed to work on," McNeill said. "He had a great year and he's gotten better this spring. He's done a great job of leading us on the field and off. The offensive line was an area we had to fix. We lost three guys. Without the offensive line, Dominique's production would be nil to zero. Our center position in the spring has been hit the most by injuries. Our top three centers, Mack Helms, Dalton Faulds and Hugh Parker have been out for the spring. That set us back but we're maintaining and progressing there, too."

Spring game format

"We don't have enough depth to go Purple-Gold or Purple-White," McNeill said. "It'll be offense vs. defense like our previous scrimmages. We'll go 90 plays. We'll have 80 plays approximately with our top groups who have stood out this spring. We'll go 10 to 12 plays with our third unit. Toward the end, we'll get everybody some reps so we'll have a chance to them on film.

"The clock will be on. The big video screen will be on. I talked to Brady Hoke at Michigan and I talked to Coach (Gene) Chizik at Auburn. They're doing the same thing."

Agent information

As was the case last year, Pirate players and their families will have the opportunity on Friday to find out more about pro agents. That session will be going on today.

"That's a thing we'll continue to do," McNeill said. "I'm hoping the debacle last year that was nationwide, that agents and our people have learned from other people going through some things.

"We'll introduce our team and parents to the agent deal this weekend. We'll have our compliance office heading that up, along with Antonio Huffman."

Former players to be welcomed

There will be a golf tournament today for former players. There will be a lettermen's gathering tonight at the Murphy Center.

"I'll have a chance to see some former teammates," McNeill said. "Younger Pirates are invited, too. Everybody's welcome. We're family here and we want those guys to feel like they can come home. Everybody is somebody here. That's how it will be as long as I'm here. I appreciate the players who had success here on the field. There are some players who may not have been successful on the field as others but they're as valuable as the next guy.

"That's the atmosphere and the environment that I'm promoting and will promote. I'm looking forward to seeing those guys (tonight)."

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Al Myatt Archives

04/22/2011 01:18 AM


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