CHRONICLING EAST CAROLINA & CONFERENCE USA SPORTS
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Monday Focus
Monday, November 11, 2013

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

True freshman a true talent

Isaiah Jones points to the Pirate Nation after one of his two touchdown catches in East Carolina's win over Tulsa on Saturday. (Photo by W.A. Myatt)
 
 

True freshman a true talent

 

Conference USA at a Glance

 

Game Center: ECU 58, Tulsa 24

 

Past and future present in ECU win

 

Game Day Photo Gallery

 

Audio: Coach Ruff post-game...

 

Pirates roll in hoops opener

 

Audio: Lebo & players post-game...

 

Greg's Game Day Breakdown

 

This week in college football history

 

Kevin's Keys to the Game

 

Turnovers plague Golden Hurricane

 

Home stand starts decisive stretch

 
Audio: Brian Bailey Show
The Brian Bailey Show airs on Pirate Radio 1250 on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. This week's guest was Marc Yellock: Replay show...
 
Audio: Coach Ruff Weekly Presser
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill discussed the Pirates' road win over FIU and previewed their home game with Tulsa: Select clip...
 
Audio: Steve Logan Show
The Steve Logan Show airs on FM 103.7 and FM 94.1 each Monday from 6-8 p.m. Replay this week's show: Select clip...
 

C-USA players of the week

 

A November to remember?

 

Game day photo gallery

 
Audio: Coach Ruff Post-game
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill met with the press after the Pirates' Conference USA road win over FIU: Select clip...
 

C-USA scoreboard & standings

 

Greg's Game Day Breakdown

 

This week in college football history

 

By Al Myatt
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East Carolina has dealt with lack of depth in the Ruffin McNeill coaching era but the Pirates have gotten better at handling it.

Riddled by injuries to the defense at the close of the 2010 season, the Pirates yielded an average of 54.1 points in the last five games.

Ten different players made starts at five offensive line positions as the injury bug shifted its bite in 2011 and ECU fell short of a bowl bid.

Last season, there were problems keeping running backs healthy but the Pirates had enough depth to overcome the situation.

This year, the personnel challenge has been at the receiver positions.

Various factors have made Justin Jones, Jabril Solomon, Danny Webster, Jimmy Williams, Zico Pasut, Quataye Smyre and Davon Grayson unavailable this season.

Instead of struggling with the misfortune of those absences, ECU has scarcely missed a beat as evidenced by 384 yards and five touchdowns passing by Shane Carden in a 58-24 win over Tulsa on Saturday evening.

True freshman Isaiah Jones has been among those stepping up. Jones had eight catches for 104 yards and two scores as ECU improved to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in Conference USA going into a 2 p.m. home game with Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.

Jones is a Pirate legacy. His dad, Robert, was a linebacker on the 11-1 ECU team in 1991 and went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys. His uncle, Jeff Blake, quarterbacked that team that topped N.C. State 37-34 in the Peach Bowl and went on to an extended NFL career. His cousin, Emory Blake, played at Auburn and is currently on the St. Louis Rams practice squad. Another cousin, Torre Blake, is a sophomore outside hitter on the ECU volleyball team.

"He comes from great bloodlines," said Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill. "He came into summer school and absolutely fit what coach (Jeff) Connors (assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning) preaches before we could even coach him."

In Connors' evaluation, both Grayson and Jones had leadership abilities.

"(Jones) continued into fall camp and fought for playing time," McNeill said. "When he was given the starting position, he has not relaxed. He practices just like Justin (Hardy), like he's going to lose his job if he doesn't go hard every play. That's what I like about Zay."

In nine games, Jones has 39 catches for 382 yards and five touchdowns. His first scoring reception came in the season-opening 52-38 win over Old Dominion.

That's not bad for a guy who was lining up for Stephen F. Austin High School in Austin, TX, a year ago.

"He's a smart football player," McNeill said. "He understands concepts offensively as well as defensively."

The Pirates coach is anticipating that Jones will transform his 6 feet, one inch, 170-pound frame with more training under Connors and be even better suited for the game.

Jones also may develop in other areas. He returned his first kickoff for 28 yards in a 34-13 win at Florida International on Nov. 2.

Hardy, who continued to put his name in the ECU record books with his second 1,000-plus yard receiving season and his 23rd career touchdown catch on Saturday, has been a positive influence on Jones.

"Justin is Isaiah's big brother," McNeill said. "He takes care of him. ... When they do double Justin, they have to worry about (Jones). Once they start doubling, a different guy should flourish."

Hardy and Jones room together on the road. Like Hardy, Jones wasn't the subject of a tug of war from college recruiters. Both genuinely appreciate the opportunity the Pirates have given them.

"My college decision came down to the people and the tradition," Jones said. "The environment here the people and the coaches, they embrace you. When I came here and met these people I could see this was where I needed to be."

Jones said Hardy has helped him with the mental transition to the college game.

"When we're in the film room, I'm watching Justin," Jones said. "How did he catch that ball? How did he adjust that route? How did he make that play?"

Hardy is a great resource for a young player eager to improve.

"When you are able to surround yourself with people like that, that makes you successful," Jones said. " ... I was a little nervous, as any freshman would be, but I've had great coaches and I've been surrounded by great players that have allowed me to progress and do well this season.

"I didn't start that high on the depth chart but I've worked my way up. The coaches have given me a fair opportunity to do what I can. ... In the end, it's all about the team. We've progressed as a team."

Extensive film study helped Jones to his productive day against the Golden Hurricane.

"They're a good team first of all, but the film work helps to pinpoint their weaknesses, how to find where to sit in their zones and stuff like that," Jones said.

One player Jones inevitably sees when he goes to study film is Carden, the junior quarterback.

"This guy is mentally sharp," Jones said. "He knows what to do. He puts us in position to be successful. He's one of the greatest players I've ever been around. Shane is always in the film room. Every time I walk by there, he's in there."

Jones made a motion with his hand like someone operating a remote control to convey Carden's focus.

"He's always doing what he can to make this team successful," said the Pirate rookie.

When Jones was asked what number he preferred, he asked for No. 7, which he wore in high school. It was available.

Robert Jones doesn't get to see his son play in person on a regular basis.

"I've got five other siblings that need him as well," Jones said. "Whenever he can come up here and watch, I'm happy for that. I know he's always got his eyes on me, whether it's on a TV or here."

The Pirate receiving corps is like a stockpile of interchangeable parts.

"We've had some unfortunate losses but some guys have stepped up," Jones said.

Jones has made some significant contributions already and his upside is exciting.

He feels the offense will get better, too.

"We still haven't reached our peak yet," Jones said. "I feel like we're still climbing up that mountain."

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11/11/2013 03:08 AM
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