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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

Casualty list shrinks just in time

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Pierre Bell is a full-time hungry linebacker and part-time locker room motivator. He’s been honing both roles for years in preparation for a stage like Saturday’s Conference USA conference championship (12 p.m., ESPN2).

And the East Carolina senior almost missed the whole thing.

Bell’s pregame process goes a little like this: Prepare physically in practice and mentally by studying film and plays. Then, as the game approaches, welcome the emotion that comes rolling in like waves. Let that passion form words to energize teammates, then spill the whole mixture out onto the field to trip up opposing offenses.

“Being that it’s the conference championship game, I’ll probably be a whole another person out there,” he said. “I don’t know. Only God knows,” said Bell, who missed the Texas-El Paso game after suffering an injury in the UAB game. He has been cleared to play on Saturday.

One of the sparkplugs of the ECU defense, Bell will need to be at the apex of his game to help the defense contain Tulsa, the team that is averaging 49 points a game and has scored 81 touchdowns this year compared with ECU’s 33.

Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson isn’t unveiling anything gimmicky or unique for this game, just reminding Bell and the others to do what they know how to do with as few mistakes as possible.

“They’re very wide open, and you get caught staring at the screen in awe of their passing game," Hudson said, "but you’d better pay attention that they lead the conference in rushing. It’s the same thought that we had with West Virginia.”

“Anybody in the West, they try to make it basketball on grass,” Bell said. “You just have to tackle in space and be exceptionally fast on your reads and your keys.”

The Golden Hurricane has possibly the most effective offense the Pirates have faced this year. Fortunately, ECU will have more firepower than it has had in a month, especially on defensive.

Recent weeks have stretched the limits of Hudson’s resourcefulness, as he has relied on young players that should have been learning from the sidelines to fill in for the contributors who were out with injuries.

But this week has brought the Pirate Nation its first ray of hope from the training room: Four players, including Bell, are either probably or definitely healthy enough to take the field now, and cornerback Emanuel Davis will be back after missing the UTEP game because of a family situation.

With the exception of Quentin Cotton, ECU has its original early September depth chart back at long last, Hudson said.

"Up front we’re intact,” Hudson said. “Our front seven is the same guys that played at Virginia Tech. We extended the season. While they’re away they’re rehabbing and they’re resting their body. So we get back a guy who’s not only healthy again, but probably a step fresher than he was when he went down.”

A few players – like Marcus Hands and Khalif Mitchell – are still a long way from suiting up, and some are on the bubble this week.

One defender who is hoping and praying for a favorable report is linebacker Cliff Perryman, who missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. Perryman, a freshman who has recorded 15 tackles this season, is cautiously optimistic about his chances of taking the field against Tulsa.

As he and so many teammates have watched games they desperately wanted to play in, Perryman has seen the entire defense grow closer and more motivated.

“It’s more painful than the injury, having to watch from the sideline when you should be out there with your team,” said Perryman, who expects to get the final word on his playing status by Wednesday. “The injuries have definitely brought us tighter and closer together.”

Bell agrees, recalling head coach Skip Holtz’s reminder that adversity will either unify a team or splinter it. This season has been no small test for the Pirates, but Bell thinks they have walked through the fire and been refined, not consumed.

“Coach Holtz has always said, ‘Adversity will only do two things: It’s either going to tear you apart or bring you closer together,' ” he said. “With all the injuries we had, thank God we came closer together, because if it had torn us apart it would have gotten ugly.”

This weekend’s trip to Tulsa will provide ample opportunity for the Pirate defense to test its mettle, with the first order of business the containment of Golden Hurricane quarterback David Johnson, a senior who has passed for 3,671 yards this season.

“The quarterback plays with great confidence,” Hudson said. “And whether it’s little league or the NFL, if the quarterback’s the guy in making the plays you’ve got a good chance of winning.”

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12/03/2008 01:45:52 AM

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