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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, March 17, 2008

By Brian Bailey

Personnel issues muddle football outlook

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

Outdoor sports and the weather sometimes just don’t mix. Just ask East Carolina baseball coach Billy Godwin, who may have finally thawed out from the weekend’s series with UCLA.

The 2009 ECU football team was scheduled to hit the field Monday for the first practice of the spring. Mother Nature once again failed to cooperate. The Pirates will practice as scheduled on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. and will make up Monday’s rained-out session on Thursday.

Despite the rain, Coach Skip Holtz had a smile on his face Monday. Holtz has always maintained that the spring is his favorite time of the year. Holtz loves to get on the grass and teach, and he’s looking forward to getting down to business.

Holtz also got busy answering questions about this year’s squad.

The biggest questions at his press conference concerned Norman Whitley, Jonathan Williams and Jamar Bryant.

Williams and Bryant were suspended last season for different violations of team rules. Holtz updated their status.

“Both of these players are practicing with us right now and at this point are on the team,” said Holtz. “However, there are many stipulations that must be met academically, physically, socially and mentally, so that status could change in the next few months. They are not out of the woods yet and must perform at a satisfactory level to remain on this team in the fall."

Holtz didn’t rule out some type of suspension to start the season for both Williams and Bryant. Williams has a court date coming up that could seal his fate.

Whitley’s status continues to be a mystery. Whitley has met several times with Holtz, and the Pirate coach asked that those conversations remain private between the two.

"There have been many rumors about Norman Whitley’s status on this team,” said Holtz. "I have met with Norman on a number of occasions. I am hopeful that he can finish his career here at East Carolina and Norman is also hopeful to remain a part of this program for the rest of his career.

"It is a situation in which we are constantly meeting face-to-face, and when there is more to report, I will keep everyone up to date."

Whitley and Williams may wear question marks on their jerseys instead of numbers. Holtz has big concerns about his running backs.

"Right now, there is a young man named Brandon Jackson who transferred from Kentucky and sat out last season,” said Holtz. “We will be able to get a long and hard look at him this spring in the backfield. He has played on the scout team but we haven't been able to give him much work since he did not have eligibility.

"Right now, you can pretty much throw everyone into the mix. We are just trying to find one guy right now that will step up and be effective for us. Right now, there are six candidates for the position but every one of the players has a question mark next to their names due to factors such as injuries, personal situations, or just being an unknown commodity. We want to find the guys that will be an every-day, accountable back for us.

"There is a lot of talent at the position but even more uncertainty than we had a year ago, which makes it a primary concern of mine entering the spring."

Holtz also has major concerns about his injury situation. Eighteen players will miss all or part of spring football practice. That’s the bad news. The good news is that many of the young players will get that much more playing time, and that paid dividends last season for this team.

The spring is a time to look at every aspect of the program. The coaches have watched film after film and have come up with several aspects that they want to work on with this team during the spring.

"We need to take a look at our man and zone protection on offense," said Holtz. "Spring practice is all about identifying your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if Dwayne Harris is going to be one of our better offensive players, we have to know how to utilize him effectively in the offensive scheme, either under center or in the backfield.

"As I said before, a large part of what we are trying to do is to see how the younger players are going to develop and to discern how much they have improved.

"I am excited to have most of the line back in guys like Sean Allen, Terrence Campbell and D.J. Scott."

Don’t get me wrong. You certainly won’t see wholesale changes coming. Holtz likes his offense and likes the flexibility to make changes on the fly.

"We have a very flexible offense, which is definitely going to help us," he said. "We can go into the two-back scheme and be a power running team or we can also go with no backs and be a drop-back passing squad. It is also a negative because you cannot do everything effectively all of the time. We just need to identify what will work for us in key situations."

The Pirates are squeezing five weeks of work into four this year. East Carolina’s spring football game is set for April 18th at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.


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03/17/2009 12:37:15 AM


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