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Pirate Notebook No. 466
Monday, June 13, 2011

Denny O'Brien

Season will hinge on Davis's supporting cast


Season will hinge on Davis's supporting cast
ECU foursome set for debut on the big stage
Road to Omaha blocked by Cavaliers
Regional Photo Galleries
Charlottesville Regional Audio: Godwin & Players
Godwin's strategy pays off against Navy
Timely hitting goes AWOL again
Ruff treatment: Weaver hands off to Hasty
Pirates clicking, but capable of better: Godwin
Starting Tuesday

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

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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 season.

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 end.

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 non-conference slate.

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 transition.

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 2010.

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.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

06/13/2011 03:35 AM

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