TAKE ON PIRATE SPORTS
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Spring season means
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“March Madness” has a totally different meaning for East Carolina
football coach Ruffin McNeill. "Ruff’s Madness” comes on the gridiron.
begins his third year as the head of this Pirate ship, and he
desperately wants his program to bounce back from a disappointing 5-7
record from a year ago.
The coach knows this team was far too careless with the football a year
ago. He says he and his staff will stress ball protection from the very
first time the whistle blows this spring through next season.
“Last year we know, and it has been documented, that we shot ourselves
in the foot during some games,” said McNeill
at his news conference to kick
off spring drills. “That cost us. There were also some good things we
did in terms of smart football, such as the decrease in penalties. We
will continue to emphasize that and playing smart football.
have to continue to preach taking care of the ball on offense and taking
it away on defense.”
There are several great battles that will go on as players jockey for
position on the depth chart that will be used when summer drills start
The most intriguing battle is at quarterback. Rio Johnson won the
back-up role last year, but Brad Wornick has the most experience coming
back. Sophomore Shane Carden and freshman Cody Keith are also in the
I asked Coach McNeill to handicap the starting quarterback race.
“Redshirt freshman Cody Keith is the youngest,” said McNeill. “He’ll be
a guy who will play for us for a long time. He has done really well
during the offseason. Rio Johnson and Brad Wornick have gotten reps
during games. Shane Carden was in a battle with Rio during last year’s
fall camp. Shane can certainly come in and run this offense.
three guys are a little older than Cody and have been around the system
a bit longer.”
McNeill says he likes the way this group works. He said he wasn’t really
alarmed that the Pirates didn’t sign a quarterback.
“A guy coming in here has to understand the competition,” explained
McNeill. “Some (quarterbacks) maybe don’t want the challenge and
McNeill says he would like to name a starting quarterback by the end of
“You’d like to go into the summer with a starter established,” McNeill
said. "But I think that’s up to them. We have a system. We’ll watch,
grade and rate from the beginning of practice through the end of spring
drills. We’ll look at everything from seven-on-seven passing to
understanding the offense. We will conduct drills, competitions and
team-on-team evaluations with that group throughout the spring. You’d
like to have a starter, but we can go through summer and fall camp
before making a decision if we have to.”
While experience at quarterback is at a minimum, this is a veteran squad
that opened spring drills on Monday. The Pirates return seven starters
on both sides of the football.
Another area of emphasis this spring will be revamping the special
teams. Kirk Doll begins his first season on McNeill’s staff and has had
success with special teams during his long career. Doll returns to his
alma mater, having played for Sonny Randle in the early 70’s. Doll
brings 33 years of coaching experience back to Greenville.
“Kirk has a vast background from Notre Dame to LSU to the NFL,” said
McNeill. “His installation will be a big part of that group’s spring.
One of the things we want to do is add speed to all our units. We want
to improve our defensive special teams coverage units on the punt team
and kickoff team. We need to be able to establish good field position
for our defense. Also our return units need to improve. After watching
all the film from last season, we have got to get better in that area
On defense, McNeill says he wants this team to just keep on improving.
East Carolina moved to a 3-4 defense after finishing dead last in the
nation in 2010 in total defense. Last year the Pirates cut 100 yards per
game from the team’s total from the year before. McNeill wants the
emphasis on defense to continue in his program.
“Defensively, we want to improve on where we left off,” said McNeill.
“We want to sustain and continue to get better. This is a group I’m
excited about. They made a big jump last season and significantly
This is a very important time for the Pirates in football. East Carolina
does have experience coming back, but there is inexperience at several
Every workout this spring will prove to be important when September
rolls around and the Pirates take the field against Appalachian State.
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03/20/2012 02:42 AM