Bonesville features writer Ron Cherubini
conducted Q&A sessions with East Carolina
offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley (above)
and his defensive counterpart Brian Mitchell
(below). Don't miss the coaches' candid
glimpses into the thinking inside the
program heading into the 2011 season.
Tuesday: Riley Q&A
Thursday: Mitchell Q&A
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Barring injuries or other unforeseen
misfortune during his upcoming senior year, Dominique Davis will shatter
the single-season East Carolina passing records he established last
Thatís about the only prediction I care
to publicize for the Piratesí upcoming football campaign. Itís also
about the only one that I feel confident in becoming a reality by yearís
Too many unknowns prevent me from
extending my 2011 forecast beyond that. Because outside of the poise and
steadiness of Davis and a handful of others, there just arenít many
guarantees entering this season.
Save for the difficulty of the
What we can state with certainty is that
Davis canít be expected to carry the load alone. Heíll need plenty of
assistance from every other phase of the team, much of which must be
provided by players who are largely unproven in the roles theyíll be
asked to fill.
That includes potential superstars such
as Lance Lewis, who is expected to assume the label of go-to receiver.
Though Lewisís talent is not the question, duplicating last seasonís
productivity canít be taken for granted without someone of Dwayne
Harrisí talent commanding so much of the defenseís attention.
Some might assume that playmaker Michael
Bowman can alleviate much of the pressure on Lewis, and perhaps he will.
But again, weíre talking about a player who hasnít managed the type of
load heíll be requested to handle this year.
The running game presents another
glaring unknown, perhaps the biggest within a program attempting to
rebuild the nationís worst defense. The uncertainties here extend far
beyond the abundance of inexperience at running back, what with an
offensive line that lost key personnel and struggled to assert itself in
short-yardage situations last year.
If the Pirates are unable to improve
significantly in those scenarios, they will again struggle to extend
drives, resulting in unneeded pressure on a defense that will surely
experience its share of growing pains during yet another philosophical
Any help the ECU offense can provide the
defense ó beyond just piling points onto the scoreboard ó could prove to
be the tipping point between a four- and seven-win season.
Defensively, the Piratesí challenges
have been well-documented and dissected. The overwhelming deficiencies
in both size and speed last year canít be expected to receive an
overnight makeover, even with ECUís shift from a 4-3 to 3-4 alignment.
Given the Piratesí personnel and the
areas in which they struggled last year, you can certainly see the
wisdom in head coach Ruffin McNeillís call to make the change. It will
put players like Justin Dixon and Marke Powell in their more natural
positions, and likely generate a more aggressive, attacking mentality.
But itís much too soon to assume that
any improvement defensively will be significant enough to help navigate
the Pirates to their sixth-consecutive bowl.
My guess is weíll have a decent idea of
the Piratesí defensive makeup Labor Day weekend when they face emerging
powerhouse South Carolina. The Gamecocks are certain to be a
double-digit favorite and have more recently adopted an offensive
philosophy that exposed ECUís defensive flaws during the latter half of
Bruising running back Marcus Lattimore
is a preseason Heisman candidate, so you can rest assured that the ĎOl
Ball Coach will be looking to expose the Piratesí defensive interior
much like Central Florida, Navy, Rice, and Maryland did last year.
How well or poorly the Pirates respond
could provide an early indication as to how much the defense has grown
since last year. ECU desperately needs for that answer to be
significantly for the better.
Right now weíre kidding ourselves if we
are certain that it will. About the only thing we can express with
confidence as the season approaches is that, with Davis, the Pirates are
as stout at quarterback as theyíve ever been.
But ECU will need a lot of elements
other than just Davis to fall into place if it is going to contend for
its 3rd Conference USA crown.