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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, October 27, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Offense adds a pinch of this, a dash of that

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Assembling an effective offense is a little bit like baking a delicious cake from scratch. It’s more science than art. Having the proper amounts of a few crucial ingredients is the difference between confectionary perfection and a paperweight.

In East Carolina's 2006 offensive cookbook, the eggs, flour, sugar and butter are a take-charge quarterback, a solid offensive line, consistent skill players and the efficiency to hold it all together with minimal turnovers. Nearly two-thirds of the way through the season, those elements are starting to come together into a blend with considerably more substance than its individual parts.

“I feel like people have come along from the experience that they’ve been getting in the games,” said senior quarterback James Pinkney, who had a career-best game Saturday against Southern Methodist with 31 pass completions for 391 yards. “I feel like they’re really getting comfortable in the roles that they have on the field.”

Each Pirate has been undergoing two different processes, it seems, on the offensive side of the line. As they settle into their unique positions and take responsibility for their particular assignments, they look around and recognize a growing trust in one another.

“I’ve got faith in every player that’s lined up next to me,” said redshirt sophomore tight end Davon Drew. “We’ve all got to be on the same page in order for us to meet the common goal that we’re working toward, which is to be conference champs and to win a bowl game.”

Drew, who has caught 13 passes and scored two touchdowns this season, is one of a handful of Pirates who have made position changes in the past year as the coaching staff has identified places where their gifts could be better used. When he came to Greenville from New Bern, Drew was a quarterback with high hopes of contributing at that position. In the offseason, the coaches converted him to a tight end.

“I always had a dream of playing at quarterback, but things weren’t really working in my favor,” Drew said. So one day I just decided I wasn’t going to let that hold me down. I just gave it a shot. It’s a team effort. That’s what the coach called for me to do, that’s what I did.”

Joining Drew on ECU’s all-transition team is redshirt junior Josh Coffman, who was recruited as a tight end when he arrived on campus but was developing the build of an offensive lineman. The Pirates needed to shore up their offensive line, and offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler saw in Coffman an answer to that need. There was only one catch, as Coffman learned at the start of last season: The coaches thought his development would best be served if he took a redshirt season focusing on the weight room and the playbook.

“I really feel like I benefited from that,” said Coffman, who nonetheless admits that it was hard to watch his teammates compete last year as he watched from the sideline. “The first game against Navy I was a little too excited. I was a little anxious on the first few drives.”

His hiatus from the active roster made right tackle feel as comfortable as an old T-shirt for Coffman, but he was also forced to make some early-season adjustments as the players and positions around him shifted. Matt Butler was moved from left guard to center early in the year, and freshman Cory Dowless is holding down Butler’s former starting job at left guard.

“We had to relearn everything,” Coffman said of the offensive line carousel. “But we gelled really quickly. Despite not having much time to learn everything, we came a long ways in a short period of time.”

Pinkney has never changed positions, but almost nothing else has remained static during his ECU career. He has remained solid through a coaching change and the persistent changes in the positions around him. And, like any good quarterback, he knows that a well-laid play-calling plan can quickly become improvisation under the pressure of a tough defense like Southern Mississippi’s.

“Southern Miss creates a lot of confusion, a lot of different fronts,” Holtz said. “They’re a very talented defense.”

To a man, every member of this offense knows what his emphasis must be on Saturday in Hattiesburg: Finding a way to move the ball on the ground. The Golden Eagles’ cornerbacks are the best the Pirates have faced all year, Holtz said, and they will be misled if they take the field expecting to win with a pass-heavy scheme like they did last week.

But in a sense, the fact that the rushing game is at the top of everyone’s agenda shows another aspect of the offense’s progress, Coffman said. The minor details that were leading to big pitfalls early in the season have mostly been ironed out, he said, forcing everyone to focus on the big thing.

“It’s almost like a checklist,” he said. “We’re not having to worry about smaller things so much any more, we’re just working together trying to get things in the right direction.”

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02/23/2007 01:13:23 AM

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