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Pirate Notebook No. 427
Monday, April 26, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Outlook murky for reinvented Pirates

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

It’s silly to put much stock into a team’s spring game performance. The practice always seemed futile.

With so many holdouts of key personnel the norm, it’s difficult to gauge the quality of a program’s product by viewing a two-hour intrasquad scrimmage. It’s generally the only day of the college football calendar in which a roster card is a requirement for both the fans and media to follow along.

That’s a good thing for East Carolina. Because if you witnessed the annual Purple and Gold scrimmage that culminated this year's spring practice, you likely left unimpressed, if not discouraged, by the team’s outlook against a 2010 schedule that might be more frontloaded than it was last fall.

You certainly could find justification for a bit of anxiety.

Of the 100 plays the Pirates ran on Bagwell Field, it seemed as if half were flagged for infractions. The other half were seemingly marked by dropped passes, sacks, quarterback indecision, and miscommunication on both offense and defense.

ECU spent much of the afternoon off tempo, out of sync, and out of sorts.

“We were a little disjointed,” Pirates offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “It’s part of the nature of the spring game. If you look, probably the best that we ever were on offense at Texas Tech was 2008 when we had a good season.

“You can go back and look up what the stats were for the spring game. I’d be a little surprised if they were better than what they were for (ECU).”

That’s somewhat encouraging. At the very least it supports the position that a team’s performance in a meaningless exhibition against itself isn’t the best indicator of the results it will produce when the opponent is from another school.

What we do know about the Pirates is that they are going to throw the football. A lot. Regardless of the down or situation, in most cases it will be the quarterback’s responsibility to accurately distribute the football and move the chains.

Of the 100 plays the Pirates ran in the spring game, 71 were passes. Last year at Texas Tech the pass-to-run ration was 67 to 33, so prepare for mostly four-hour affairs.

Defensively, we know the Pirates are going to blitz more than they did under defensive coordinator Greg Hudson’s direction. A lot more. And they will complement that with more man coverage schemes than we’ve witnessed in the past.

It will likely be feast or famine on both sides of the ball.

Just how much feast and how much famine remains to be seen. There won’t be any determination on either until at least the Pirates’ opener against Tulsa on Labor Day weekend, and that likely will be only a snippet of what the Pirates will be towards the end of the season.

With any coaching transition, the philosophy and terminology is bound to shift. The change from Skip Holtz to Ruffin McNeill brought with it the type of systemic transition that is a near 180 from the other, so to some degree it makes sense that ECU appeared a mess in the Purple-Gold clash.

The good news for ECU is that it has plenty of time to clean things up between now and the opener, time that it definitely needs to identify starters at key positions like quarterback. The anticipated arrival of junior college transfer Dominique Davis this summer and freshman Shane Carden in the fall should help with that.

It’s also helpful that McNeill and his staff won’t have to invest much time in psychologically rehabilitating a roster accustomed to losing. It took Holtz nearly a year to alter the culture at ECU, shifting the mindset from one of constant defeat to one that could compete for league titles.

What’s unfortunate is that McNeill’s inaugural season on the ECU sideline is marked by an opening grind that is unforgiving to say the least. Even with the previous staff and the same philosophical approach, a 1-5 start wouldn’t be difficult to fathom.

If the Pirates can somehow muster a .500 finish and postseason bowl, next season should be considered a resounding success. Given a new staff, new philosophies, and unparalleled roster turnover, it’s simply unfair to expect much more.


O'Brien: Outlook murky for reinvented Pirates
BVL Box Score: Rice 11, East Carolina 9
BVL Box Score: Rice 3, East Carolina 2
BVL Box Score: Rice 20, East Carolina 3
Myatt: Nelson seeks to make ECU units special
BVL Box Score: N.C. State 8, East Carolina 6
BVL Box Score: Campbell 12, ECU 7
Bailey: "Exceptional" Baseball League Photos
Bailey: Exceptional day in more ways than one
BVL: Weekly college baseball polls
Peele on Baldwin-Tener: Ladies lose a good one
Myatt: Time to check on the other guys, Part II
Audio: Ruffin McNeill Press Conference

And you shouldn’t need a potentially misleading spring game performance to draw that conclusion.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

04/26/2010 01:50 AM

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