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ECU News, Notes and Commentary

The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, October 5, 2005

By Bethany Bradsher

Offensive menu grows as new talents emerge


If any part of the East Carolina recipe needs a few extra ingredients, it's the offense. And with every week that passes, the Pirate offensive chefs are stirring new elements into the stew in a quest for the perfect combination.

"We're trying to get more playmakers on the field," ECU head coach Skip Holtz said.

Despite the five turnovers that crippled the offense during Saturday's loss to Southern Mississippi, the outing did give ECU a chance to dig deeper into its toolbox, featuring the first game action for true freshman Jerek Hewett, an increased role for junior transfer Brandon Fractious and a different point of view for receiver Robert Tillman.

It's all part of the Pirate leadership's ongoing experiment with their personnel and their scheme, offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler said.

"What happens, it's an evolution of what these kids can do on the field," Shankweiler said. "Are we a spread-it-around-and-throw-it team, are we a line-up-and-pound-you team, are we a combination of the two? And along with that goes personnel and trying to get the right people in the right spot to help us identify what we are."

Fractious, a California native who transferred to ECU from Pima Community College in Arizona, finished the game with seven carries for 35 yards and one reception for 15 yards. Those numbers were nearly double his output in the first three Pirates games combined.

Hewett, who was technically redshirted before he got into Saturday's game at wide receiver, has been at the top of Holtz's mental list of the players that would be activated if they could be difference makers right away. The West Brunswick high product ended up with three catches for 30 yards — all in the fourth quarter — and a good first taste of the intensity of the college game.

"It felt good to get back in there," said Hewett, a top-level sprinter who will also run track for East Carolina. "It's not too much different than high school, it's just faster and quicker. I had to go out there with a calm head and just go and do my job."

While he was excelling at two sports in high school, Hewett was recruited by other schools but didn't hear much from ECU until the new coaching staff arrived. But he knew about the program from former high school teammates who had played at ECU, and he was also swayed by the international reputation of track coach Bill Carson, he said.

"Everything just fell into place," he said. "So when I saw the two staffs and I looked at them: Coach Carson is one of the greatest sprint coaches in the country, and looking at some of the greatest football coaches coming in, you can't go wrong."

In an effort to find a spot for Hewett and also to increase Tillman's productivity, the coaching staff decided to move Tillman to the opposite side of the field from top receiver Aundrae Allison. Into Tillman's former spot went Hewett, and sophomore Phillip Henry caught one pass for 16 yards as the backup to Tillman.

In the backfield, Fractious stepped in to lighten Chris Johnson's load. As a newcomer to the East Coast, Fractious suffered some homesickness during preseason camp, but he has been at ease on the field because the offense is familiar territory for him, he said.

"They run pretty much the same thing that we ran at the juco, with zone and one back, so it was the perfect fit," he said.

ECU's offensive diversification represents an effort to keep opposing defenses off balance by employing different types of players, Shankweiler said, even though Johnson and Allison, almost exclusively, were featured in the first few games.

"There has been some featuring that has naturally occurred because of the course of the way the games have gone," he said. "But team morale and team productivity is always higher the more kids you involve, whether it be as a second-team player or first-team player, whether it be as your go-to guy or just your decoy. So what we're trying to do is get the best possible alignments for the kids we have."

And so fans should expect to see more shuffling on both sides of the ball as the coaches look for the ideal blend. Some changes are being carefully planned as the weeks go on, while other developments come on the fly, in response to the opponent. One example is quarterback James Pinkney's reliance on the keeper during the Southern Miss game, more than quadrupling his season net rushing yards from seven going into the game to 45 afterwards.

That change was never charted out, Shankweiler said, but it came spontaneously when the Golden Eagles started dropping eight players back in coverage and leaving only three to pressure Pinkney.

"It's hard enough to complete passes against air, but when you drop eight in coverage that just makes it harder," Shankweiler said. "But when they just rush three, you've got room to run."

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02/23/2007 01:11:46 AM

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