NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Friday, April 11, 2008
By Bethany Bradsher
Young bloods getting their
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It might be a worn-out sports metaphor, but when
Skip Holtz uses it to describe spring football practice it almost sings.
This East Carolina team, he explained on
Wednesday, is like a big jigsaw puzzle. And spring camp is all about the
coaches pulling the shrink wrap off of the box, cracking it open, examining
each piece carefully and then fitting them all together to create a whole
greater than its parts.
That process has worked pretty well over the
past six weeks, with one small problem. Skip’s puzzle is missing at least 13
pieces. And the lost pieces are some of the most crucial in the whole image
— think corner pieces, or the tip of the snow-capped mountain peak.
In all, eight defensive and five offensive
players have been forced to miss all of spring practice while they
rehabilitate injuries. The absentee list includes names like Marcus Hands
and Jay Ross on the offensive line and Jeremy Chambliss and Pierre Bell at
On offense, standouts that have sat out the
spring include lineman Fred Hicks and running back Norman Whitley. They are
represented as italicized names on the spring depth chart. No. 3 or No. 4
behind names like Maurice Mercer (freshman defensive tackle) and Steve
Spence (freshman linebacker).
With hobbled veterans giving them a larger share
of the spotlight than they might normally have, the younger players have
responded so resoundingly that veterans like senior linebacker Quentin
Cotton have taken notice.
“Oh, they’ve been tremendous,” Cotton said. . We
have a whole lot of people hurt. As far as young guys stepping up, it’s been
In light of injuries like these, the Pirate
puzzle architects have had to content themselves with the scattered images
they got to glimpse and with the evident quality of some of those pieces.
And even though any coach would love to be pulling out the rubber cement and
the puzzle frame at the close of spring practice, Holtz was quick to
identify the silver lining to his team’s current limitations.
“Our redshirts and other younger guys got an
invaluable amount of experience, and while many have distinguished
themselves individually, it's also allowed our program to develop a lot of
depth,” Holtz said. “Ironically, all of the injuries we've had this spring
have been a blessing in disguise in the fact that it's allowed us to have
many positive finds during camp.
“Yet, by the same token, having that many guys
out hasn't really allowed us to get any closer in putting the big picture
At this point, the ECU trainers feel that all of
the injured players will be strong and healthy in time for the late August
kickoff. But for now, Holtz and his colleagues can only focus on what they
have in front of them.
For quarterback Patrick Pinkney, caught in
between his final spring camp and his final Purple-Gold game, the closing of
spring practice is perhaps a little sentimental. But to dwell on the “lasts”
would be to look backward, and Pinkney is determined to forge ahead to the
Virginia Tech game, especially since the team gets more comfortable with the
coaches and the game plan every year.
“Last spring, we weren’t where we are now,”
Pinkney said. “Everybody knew what they were doing, and has learned a little
bit quicker. So we have an extra step this year.”
The ECU coaches didn’t add anything
substantially new to the playbook this year, Pinkney said, so these past
weeks have provided young and old players the chance to focus on the
fundamentals that give a team legs every November.
Pinkney, who is currently the No. 1 quarterback
on the depth chart behind junior Rob Kass, said that he is looking forward
to Saturday’s Purple-Gold game — especially the adrenaline rush that always
comes when the Pirates play for the fans after a long solitary stretch of
“It’s for the fans, but at the same time it’s
for us,” Pinkney said. “The coaches aren’t going to be out there telling us
what to do. It lets us evaluate our players, see where they are.
Linebacker Quentin Cotton said that spring
football starts with more collective rust from the preseason, because
the winter workouts are all about strength and conditioning with no
forays into football skills or plays.
“We mostly just do the fundamentals, because
everybody has to brush up on things,” Cotton said of the spring workouts.
As a final example of the incomplete nature of
this 2008 jigsaw puzzle, consider the linebackers slated to start during
Saturday’s game. Cotton, the grizzled old veteran, will start alongside one
junior and two freshmen.
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04/11/2008 01:17:28 AM