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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Friday, August 11, 2006

By Henry Hinton

Pirates' fortunes tied to rise of newcomers


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Considering the excitement surrounding the East Carolina football program, it is hard to understand how the league coaches could pick the Pirates to finish dead last in their division of Conference USA.

Beating four teams in the conference in 2005, and losing close games to Memphis and Central Florida should have brought ECU more respect this season.

Skip Holtz has taken the right attitude toward that news.

“I don’t mind being picked last at the beginning of the season. That’s where they see us. I just don’t want to be there at the end of the season,” Holtz said last Saturday in ECU's media day press conference.

Still, that pre-season poll has left most people following the Pirates' progress under Holtz scratching their heads. It’s even been suggested that there could be some sort of an agenda in the conference. Respect in Conference USA has been hard to come by for the Pirate program.

Most likely it is a lack of knowledge of the way Holtz and his staff have gone about rebuilding the program.

Early reports from camp indicate some of the new players on the team could play a significant role.

While Chris Johnson, Brandon Fractious and Dominique Lindsey are expected to elevate their game at running back this fall, there has been a buzz about true freshman Norman Whitley. Listening between the lines to Holtz on Saturday, it almost seems like the head coach is expecting Whitley to play a significant role this season, particularly in the latter part of the year.

It remains to be seen if Whitley — who according to an ECU practice report is currently nursing a bothersome shoulder — will be a red-shirt. If I were a betting man, I would say no.

Holtz also hinted that the number of horses in the running back stable might dictate that there will be two backs on the field at the same time often this fall.

ECU should have lots of offensive weapons in the skilled positions. Another newcomer is wide receiver Jamar Bryant. One can only imagine the fear of opposing defensive coordinators if ECU finds a way to put both Bryant and Aundrae Allison on the field at the same time.

In fact, the coaches have been experimenting with four receiver sets in practice.

The big question mark continues to be the offensive line. Steve Shankweiler has proven in years past that he can work miracles even when the talent level is a bit low. He may have to do it again this year.

By his own admission, Holtz says one of the problems in 2005 was the inability to move people off the line in short yardage situations. That was a frequent theme on both sides of the ball.

Often ECU would find themselves with third and short and the coaches would not have the confidence to dominate the line to get the first down. The same thing occurred on the other side of the ball. Many times the defense would be unable to stop a short run on third down.

The answer most likely comes in off-season conditioning and strength training. Holtz has great confidence in strength coach Mike Golden.

“The players both respect and fear him,” says Holtz. That’s the sign of a good coach in the weight room.

Holtz acknowledges the quarterback back-up situation is up for grabs as practice begins. He indicated last Saturday that red-shirt freshman Brett Clay is considered number two behind James Pinkney right now.

Clay did not do anything to hurt his rank in a practice earlier this week. The highlight of the Tuesday session was a 60-yard scoring pass from Clay to Fractious in third and long drills.

Losing Chris Moore and Richard Koonce at linebacker will create a need for Greg Hudson and the defensive staff to test some of the new talent as well.

The defense will be anchored by defensive end Marcus Hands, an all conference choice from last year.

Practice is in full swing. Pirate football is here.

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This page updated 04/21/08 07:01 PM.

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