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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

Linemen get some Ruff love

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

In a typical press conference, the members of the media ask the questions, but at his first weekly media event on Monday, East Carolina football coach Ruffin McNeill turned the tables on one reporter.

The scribe's question happened to be the sixth one posed to McNeill about the Great Pirate Quarterback Battle, and McNeill, in his good-natured way, had just about had enough. He shifted the topic to a subject he was passionate about, and one that hadn’t been mentioned yet in 45 minutes of questioning.

“Ya’ll like those quarterbacks, don’t you?” McNeill bantered. “I’m going to answer that question when you ask about our five linemen first. Who’s our left tackle?”

When several members of the press passed the pop quiz by answering, “Willie Smith,” McNeill launched into his most passionate remarks of the day, drawing attention to the players that remain unappreciated even though every true fan understands their value.

“Those offensive linemen, those guys are my babies,” he said. “My babies are my offensive line and my defensive line. I love those boys. That’s where you win championships. You ask Skip, you look back, those guys won the championship for them.”

Ever accommodating, McNeill then talked a little more about Dominique Davis and Brad Wornick and their unique abilities behind center, cautioning reporters that they could only ask another quarterback question if they were ready to give the name of another one of his 300-pound “babies.”

The O line is one of the most experienced units on the field, with three seniors, a sophomore and a redshirt freshman listed as the starters on the most recent Pirate depth chart. The sophomore is Dalton Faulds at center, and he earned the edge in the lineup because of recent injuries to junior Will Towery. But that position is still being contested, especially because Towery has looked stronger in practice, McNeill said.

“I saw Will do some good things,” he said of Sunday’s workout. “He was still slowed a little, but he did go out and get some good work in.”

Faulds, a 6-foot-3, 287-pound sophomore from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, was a member of the scout team for his first two seasons, but the new staff and revamped offense — along with Towery’s knee injury in the spring — have given him a chance to emerge. On Monday, McNeill said that Faulds would start if he had to make the decision that day.

“Dalton has gotten some very valuable reps in practice, and blitz pick-up work, which he’ll need,” McNeill said. “Most people will try to blitz this offense. Dalton has done a good job of leading. That guy makes all the calls. That’s an important position.”

The Faulds-Towery duel at center, like the quarterback scenario, perfectly demonstrates McNeill’s number one principle of promoting excellence at each position: Make sure every starter feels like a very talented and motivated player is breathing down his neck.

“One of the first things I mentioned was, ‘There’s no entitlement here,’” he said. “And that is still at the forefront of what we believe in here. Going into fall camp, we wanted to establish competition at all positions.”

And even if one position’s competition is getting most of the attention, the ECU staff members are applying themselves to create mini-battles all over the gridiron. Competition is one of those things that McNeill loves, along with lineman, football fundamentals and the renovated stadium into which his Pirates will storm on Sunday.

Reflecting on the stadium expansion process, he had nothing but praise for the administrators and contractors who made it happen, and as he described the finished product he was reminded of legendary college football venues he has coached in before: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State.

“It’s a magnificent facility," he said of ECU's updated digs. "It’s second to none in my opinion. The Jumbotron just adds to it. The seating, the Boneyard where our kids will be, I can’t wait to see it. I want them to be very loud, but do it in a classy way. What we have here at ECU is second to no one. I believe that, and you’d have to fight me to get me not to believe it."

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09/01/2010 06:57 AM

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