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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Thursday, March 25, 2004

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

No baloney — spring fling means offense


East Carolina’s spring football game will change its focus from last year when the event was reinstated by new coach John Thompson. In 2003, the seniors drafted players for the teams and the winners got steaks served by the losers at the post spring practice meal.

After a 1-11 season, the urgency of improvement is being seriously addressed. Thompson wanted to have some fun and involve the fan base last year. He still wants to accomplish those elements but now the emphasis is more on football and the approach is more direct. Some of the peripheral fanfare as it relates to football for the Great Purple-Gold Pigskin Pig-Out is history for the time being.

Thompson said Wednesday at a news conference to update spring practice and promote the Purple-Gold game that the players should have enough pride for the contest to be competitive without the extraneous aspects of baloney for the losers or steak for the winning team.

Pirate personnel will have to worry about eating their words for now.

“They’ll probably be some trash talking,” Thompson said. “The coaches are already talking some trash.”

Thompson may use food as motivation for a scrimmage after the spring game. The Pirates have three workouts scheduled the week following the Purple-Gold game before spring practice concludes on April 1.

The teams will be divided into first unit offense and second unit defense on one sideline on Saturday, and first unit defense and second unit offense on the other.

“That’s for continuity,” said the Pirates coach.

The offensive line, which sustained significant graduation losses, in particular needs to play together as a unit and develop. Charlie Dempsey has emerged as a leader on the blocking front under new coach Robert McFarland, who is troubled for the moment by kidney stones. Gary Freeman and center Hagen Mason, also drew praise from Thompson.

“The offensive line is where it all starts and Coach McFarland has been doing a great job,” Thompson said.

ECU appears to be a program that is moving forward by learning a new offensive system and taking lessons from its mistakes. While the players were on spring break last week, the Pirates coaches broke down tape of a March 11 scrimmage and missed assignments were corrected when the players returned to practice on Tuesday.

New offensive coordinator Noah Brindise, who coached quarterbacks for the Washington Redskins the last two seasons, has incorporated elements of Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ’n’ Gun” attack as well as aspects of the West Coast offense of former Redskins offensive coordinator Hugh Jackson into ECU’s new system.

The design accents unpredictability, power running and the deep ball.

“It was the toughest offense to prepare for when I was a defensive coordinator,” Thompson said.

ECU wanted to put forth those various elements last season but a slew of early-season turnovers forced a retreat to a more conservative style.

With Brindise at the controls, the Pirates will have seven or eight personnel groupings on offense and at least 25 formations, he said. And unlike last season when ECU went into preseason practice with the quarterback position unresolved, rising sophomore James Pinkney has separated himself as the starter at this point.

“If we were starting the season today, he would be our guy,” Brindise said of Pinkney. “We’d be going with James. He separated himself the last three or four practices before the break and (Tuesday) he had another good practice. He’s the leader. Right now he’s working with the first team and he’s going to until somebody beats him out. ...

“He’s impressed me with his smarts,” Brindise said. “I didn’t know how smart he was because he doesn’t talk much, but he really has impressed me with his knowledge. He’s a very, very natural, pure passer. He’s always thrown a good ball. We just had to speed him up a little bit and get him understanding our offense. He’s done a good job doing those things.”

Pinkney’s scrimmage numbers on Wednesday were super — 13 for 16 passing for 327 yards and five touchdowns — the effort coming against the first and second defensive units. He had 70-yard scoring passes to rising soph Robert Tillman and rising senior Damarcus Fox.

“I think we’re going to put up a lot of points and make the defense play hard on Saturday,” Pinkney said.

The quarterbacks, which also include 2003 starter Desmond Robinson and transfer Patrick Dosh, may rotate with different units on Saturday.

Running back Art Brown, who ran for over 1,000 yards in 2002 but missed last season with a knee injury, is being held out of spring ball to allow him to get back to full strength. He is attending spring practices and learning Brindise’s system. An injury to Marvin Townes, another returning 1,000-plus yard rusher, has allowed Tillman to get a lot more snaps this spring.

Thompson said Townes could probably be ready to play if this was a game week in the fall but because he has already proven his capabilities, he is being given more time to recover.

“They should hit the ground running (in August),” Brindise said of Brown and Townes. “ ... As far as learning it, they should already know it. We can kind of focus on our pass game right now and know that when those two guys come back, the focus of our offense will probably shift a little bit towards them.”

Brindise said ECU has some players who are talented enough to play for Florida, where Brindise played quarterback and worked on Spurrier’s staff before moving to the NFL with the innovative former Gators coach.

Fox has been impressive, as has junior college tight end Shawn Levesque. Offensive tackle Joel Renaud, another juco addition, has size and moves well. Brindise said fullback Jermarcus Veal, a converted linebacker, as was his predecessor Vonta Leach, has the ability “to blow people up”
with his lead blocking.

“There’s some talent here,” Brindise said. “We’re trying to figure out who our best 11 are and throw ’em out there.”

Saturday’s spring game will be another important step in the evaluation process for the Pirate coaches.

There will be a lot going on this weekend. “The Coastline Band” performs on Friday night. A fashion show at the Murphy Center beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning is a new addition to the occasion and will feature some of the coaches’ wives. There will be carnival rides on Friday night and Saturday and, of course, the pig cooking contest. ECU’s softball team plays DePaul on Saturday and Sunday.

“I think our players will get jazzed up a little bit,” Thompson said. “Seeing the crowd — and what an unbelievable crowd we had last year — with all the people that come here and with everything going on, our players will be excited.”

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02/23/2007 12:45:20 AM

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