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Friday, March 23, 2012
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Features Writer

Part II: With Davis Gone, Can 'O' Raid Again?

Let the Battle Begin: Shane Carden, Rio Johnson and Brad Wornick know there can be only one starting QB. (ECU SID images)

Breaking Down the 2012 Edition of Pirate Football

Editor's note: With the East Carolina Pirates ramping up for the Ruffin McNeill regime's third go-round of spring drills, the timing is opportune for Ron Cherubini to delve into the good, the not-so-good, the unknowns and the possibilities surrounding the program. Cherubini examines the state of the nation — the Pirate Football Nation — in three articles. Part I provides an introduction to the series; Part II focuses on the ECU offensive unit's strengths and weaknesses; and Part III analyzes the potential of the Pirates' defensive unit.

Ron Cherubini's Three-part Spring Football Preview:
• Thursday, Mar. 22 (Part I): Charting the Pirates' 2012 Journey
• Friday, Mar. 23 (Part II): With Davis gone, can 'O' raid again?
• Monday, Mar. 26 (Part III): Respectable 'D' now seeking greatness

By Ron Cherubini
All rights reserved.


Heading into 2011, East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley really expected his offense to outperform his record setting unit of 2010. He had reason to believe this with a prolific passer returning in Dominique Davis, stud wide receivers in Lance Lewis and Justin Jones, and an offensive line that, while not very experienced on the field, was well-ingrained in the offense.

Instead, what he got was a huge dose of injuries, starting with losing 6-7 wide receiver Jones before the season’s first snap. What followed was the loss of 14 significant players for a total of 48 games of action.

The unit finished respectably in regards to total offense, finishing ranked 50th overall, clipping along at just shy of 400 yards per game. But, the offense was totally out of balance even for the air raid style offense it is. The Pirates passed like a Top 20 team but rushed like one of the worst teams in the country. And with the injuries came patchwork lineups which, in a rhythm offense, resulted in way too many mistakes at critical moments.

So where does that leave the Pirates as the 2012 edition of spring camp gets underway? Surprisingly, in a lot more comfortable place than you might expect for a unit that needs to replace the likes of QB Davis and WR Lewis.

The reality is that while the QBs in this system put up gaudy numbers, the big concern is always the offensive line, which must perform with more choreographic precision than a top flight dance troupe. So if you ask Riley how he is feeling, his answer may surprise.

In his trio of QB combatants — Shane Carden, Rio Johnson, and Brad Wornick — the Pirates will have a quarterback capable of running the offense, meaning capable of putting up big numbers. The one-year starter was a staple at Texas Tech and Riley really is not concerned. If you ask him what he is concerned about, he will probably start out by saying left tackle, followed by depth at center.

Though it will be an exciting battle to watch in the spring, the QB situation will work itself out in this offense. The real savvy Pirate fans will focus squarely on the men in the trenches. If the team emerges from spring ball with a top five from right to left that looks like this: Grant Harner, Will Simmons, Josh Clark, Jordan Davis, Adhem Elsawi and all of them are healthy… you just might see a smile on Riley’s face. Of course, as we learned the hard way last season, depth on the front line is always a priority and a concern, and this year it is no different. The spring should give a good gage as to where the big-bodied youngsters are and how many of them are ready for depth chart responsibility.

There is much to be excited about and much to be cautious about for 2012 and it starts with spring camp. Expect some good and bad days early on from the quarterbacks as they each begin a move on the vacant job. Expect the wide receivers to be a very good unit, both inside and out, and expect the line to be improved over a year ago. One of the camp highlights will be the battle for the place-kicking job where steady kicker Michael Barbour’s successor will come from a virtually untested trio of walk-ons.

The focus of the camp will be to find the next quarterback — or at least set a depth chart there — and to improve the running game, which was decimated by injuries. Perhaps the biggest thing that needs to emerge from the offense coming out of spring will be leadership. A few of the starters need to rise to the occasion so that the rest of the unit can rally to their cries. It will be an eventful camp this year.

The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the returning Pirates on offense. The ↑→↓ symbols next to each position header are an indicator of the relative strength or weakness of the unit. This rating is based not just on returning talent and experience, but more so on depth or question marks at the position.


  • 1. Brad Wornick (SR-SQ): It is all about urgency this year for Wornick, who saw some good game action as the No. 2 in 2010 before falling down the depth chart in 2011 where he was relegated to holding the clipboard for a season. As a senior, this is Wornick’s last go-round and the job is up for grabs, so expect to get his best effort. He has the ability to be a starter in this offense but will face a game challenge from last season’s No. 2, Rio Johnson, as well as Shane Carden, who knows the system and may be ready for prime time as a sophomore. Wornick has been tabbed as a true competitor by Riley, who expects the former walk-on to make a hard run at grabbing the job. Spring is likely his only chance to win the job as he will get the opportunity to show Riley that he can be an everyday standout in practice, not just games. Riley has indicated that Wornick’s practice performances have been inconsistent, which factored into why he stumbled in 2011. He is a guy who rises to the occasion in game atmosphere — ala Patrick Pinkney — but needs to do it in practice for a shot at the job in his final season. Expect Wornick to put on his best spring as a Pirate.

  • 2. Rio Johnson (JR-RS): Johnson earned the No. 2 spot in 2011, supplanting the previous No. 2 in Wornick by showing practice consistency and a new level of maturity along with an athleticism and high football IQ that is desired in this offense. He performed well in his very limited game opportunities but didn’t get nearly as many chances as Riley would have liked. Having gotten a glimpse of the QB Promised Land, Johnson appears to be as motivated as ever. In the past, his downfall has always been his resistance to doing the things that are expected of him at all times. Riley has said in the past that Johnson operates on a short leash. It appears that Johnson is his own biggest opposition. If he shows up in spring as the highly-motivated, program-invested QB he can be, he might solidify the starting job in the spring. Conversely, if he comes in complacent or expecting to cake-walk to the starting job, he could see his future pass him by quickly.

  • 3. Shane Carden (SO-RS): Of all of the QBs returning, Carden is a cut above athletically and from a passing talent perspective. Riley has said this time and again and now Carden brings into spring camp the motivation that comes with being ready for a starting job. His scout team work and his performances in the Thursday scrimmages as well as his previous two spring camps have made him a quiet but formidable favorite for winning the job for 2012. No doubt Riley believes that Carden could be wildly successful running the offense. But, like all the QBs, he needs to put it all together under the spotlight of spring camp. This year, to put it all together means winning the starting job. Unless he is a complete bust in the spring, Carden will likely be in the starting QB conversation up to the opener in the fall.

  • 4. Cody Keith (FR-RS): Despite some injuries that hampered his development somewhat in his redshirt season, Keith impressed Riley with his performances in the Thursday night scrimmages. Riley said that he is excited to see what Keith does in the spring because the other coaches have yet to see the young QB fully healthy and with the restraints pulled off. While it is not likely Keith will seriously factor in to the starting position battle this season, he could make some noise by getting on the depth chart at No. 3. He is still a year or two away from his battle for the No. 1 job at ECU.

Position Analysis: It is back to the beginning for Riley this season in regards to the QB position. With the graduation of record-setting passer and unquestioned offensive leader Dominique Davis, East Carolina must now find his successor. So, what do the Pirates have in the stable? While the four quarterbacks vying for the job have little game experience between them, they all have fully absorbed the offense and its nuances. A formidable receiving corps awaits any would-be signal caller. But you cannot get around the nervousness of breaking in a new quarterback in an offense that lives and dies by that guy’s arm and decision-making. That said, of the guys who will battle in the spring, each brings a high level of talent and slightly different skillsets. Riley is convinced that Wornick, Johnson, or Carden — if he puts it all together — can successfully operate the offense. Johnson would be the heir apparent going on the fact that he was the No. 2 a year ago, but in Riley’s system, the battle is reset each and every year. Carden is the one to watch. He could be special. Overall, this position HAS to be noted as a point of concern, at least early in the season.


  • 1. Reggie Bullock (SR-TR): A very natural runner, adept at setting up his blocks as well as a fierce competitor, Bullock was running well when he got hurt in the Navy game. Having been the primary back through the Pirates OOC stretch, he was still averaging 4.5 yards per carry and was on pace to hit the 1,000-yard mark (or close to it) before getting hurt. Riley makes no bones about the impact losing Bullock had on the offense, saying that when Bullock was lost, he was in a groove and rarely if ever picked up fewer yards than the play was designed to gain on any given snap. Lost in his abilities is the fact that he was playing behind a young line during the toughest part of the season and yet found success carrying the ball in the pass-first offense. This will be Bullock's final year of collegiate football and the former National JUCO Offensive Player of the Year has no intentions of allowing anyone to take his job in his final campaign. He has been fully engaged in Camp Connors, he is expected to be a little stronger, and his body is expected to able to take the punishment this time around. Expect Bullock to set a high bar in the spring for anyone with a notion of taking his job. It won’t come easy. He is the clear cut No. 1 heading into camp.

  • 2. Torrance Hunt (JR-RS): At this time a year ago, Hunt was getting word that he would switch from WR to RB because of very thin numbers at the position for spring camp. Riley was very enthusiastic about the speedster’s abilities and the thought that the offense could get an extra boost of speed and shiftiness at any given time. Hunt had a great spring, but it took him till late in the 2011 season for the position requirements to lock in and the game to slow down for him. When that happened, he emerged as a really good back and one that can actually play full time if needed. Like Bullock, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry and finished the season atop the rushing yardage leaderboard with 489 yards. Moreover, he demonstrated that he can be a game changer, making big play after big play in an important win over Central Florida in which he was the clear star of the game. That experience is promising and now, coming into spring as a RB with game experience, expect him to have a harder edge in camp. He has tasted the starting role and will want much more of it. To realize that goal, Hunt has to prove he can become a deadly pass catcher and he has to be able to break that first tackle, something that prohibited a lot of would-be big plays last season. He should be in the thick of the competition.

  • 3. Michael Dobson (JR-RS): Dobson has had his moments on the field for the Pirates, moments that serve as evidence that he can be a good back at this level. He rushed for 221 yards and three TDs in fill-in appearances in 2011. Riley likes him but was frank in his assessment following the season. He said that the biggest thing for Dobson is that he has to run with explosiveness. He has shown it here and there but nowhere near enough to warrant being the main back. Riley said he is hopeful that Dobson’s work with Camp Connors will help him learn how to be a running back in this offense. If he has picked up that understanding, he will compete. If not, he will be the emergency backup if all else fails.

  • 4. Hunter Furr (JR-TR): A highly sought after prep player just a few years ago, Furr has completed his one year stay per NCAA transfer rules and is chomping at the bit to get on the field. Furr brings a rare combination of size (6-0, 225 pounds) and sprinter speed, he is… well… intriguing. Riley made no bones about his thoughts on Furr, indicating he could not wait to see him in spring and to coach him every day. Riley said that Furr showed some great things in the Thursday night scrimmages as well as on scout team. Riley noted that he wants to see how it translates into the running competition in the spring. Furr is a junior and is motivated to play after a year off. He is the true wildcard this spring. If he is as good as advertised, he could reshape the whole depth chart. But potential is only potential until put to the true test. Expect some pleasant things from Furr in the spring.

  • 5. Chris Hairston (FR-RS): The staff was very excited about Chris Hairston and was eager to see how his spring would be in 2012. However, he got hurt very early in 2011 and had to be put on the shelf. Prior to his injury he showed that he has a ton of talent, having performed exceptionally well in some of the activities prior to his injury. There is a chance that Hairston will not even be ready to participate this spring, so any expectations of him factoring in at the running back position are a bit premature. If he does see the field, the goal for the spring will be to re-acclimate to the rigors of football practice and to get his sea legs back. Then, it will come down to reps over the course of the year in practice and scrimmages. Don’t expect Hairston to factor this spring. His contributions are more likely to emerge in 2013 and beyond.

Position Analysis: If nothing else, the battle for the lion’s share of the snaps should be a very intense one and, while at first glance the position seems sort of humdrum, it is not nearly as bad as you might think considering two big tells: 1) the Pirates heavily recruited the position, pushing hard to sign a “starter ready” back, but were not able to sign one of three high profile players they were courting; 2) the Pirates ended the 2011 season, basically, with a tight end playing running back. Now those are two very telling items, but the story is not that clear. The Pirates now have two talented backs that have produced as such on the field, another that has shown flashes of greatness in his ample game experience and a fourth who is a true wildcard in Furr, the transfer from UNC-Chapel Hill. Riley has referred to Bullock as a perfect back for this system and as good as any in the league. He has also referred to Hunt as a guy who has much potential and is just understanding the position. Riley has put a star next to Furr indicating that of all the backs, he is the biggest, strongest, and fastest and the player he most can’t wait to see in the spring. Throw hard-running Dobson in the mix and you have a pretty nice stable vying for the starting job. However, last year has sent the warning shot that you can never have enough backs in that stable, so the Pirates will expect to have four “starter quality” backs coming out of spring. Best bet is that Bullock emerges the guy with Furr pushing hard heading into the fall. Hunt will get his carries, likely, no matter where he ends up on the depth chart. Dobson could be the guy looking from the outside in, but he is a competitor and could make a run as well. Youngster Chris Hairston was showing promise before being shelved with a nasty injury. He is rehabbing but may need this season just to get himself back to competition level. Former rising back, Alex Owah, is no longer on the team. Riley indicated that if necessary, he has total confidence in TE Zico Pasut to get reps in the backfield following his efforts in 2011. If this unit is healthy, it will be a fine group.


  • 1. Justin Jones (JR-RS): Heading into the 2011 season, the feeling on the offense was that Jones was going to be a huge component of the offense given his size and his critical game experience from 2010. Then a knock on the knee put him on the shelf for the start of the season. He came back into the fold in the back half of the season, but only sparingly until the last two games of the season when he resurfaced as a dominating receiver, snagging 4 TDs in two games, proving to be a red zone monster for the Pirates. In his absence, Justin Hardy flourished, so there was a silver lining, but with Jones in the lineup, the team is a very different one in terms of options available in the attack. He has become a much better blocker as well, which has impressed Riley and gives the Pirates more options in the offense when he or Zico Pasut are in the lineup. Expect a healthy Jones with another year of Camp Connors and a taste of living up to his potential, to be a BEAST in this offense, and it should start in the spring.

  • 2. Zico Pasut (JR-RS): Pasut got his first dose of extended playing time in 2011, being a bit of a jack of all trades playing both IWR and running back. He brought a much needed power presence to the backfield and he got his first reception a year ago. In Riley’s opinion, Pasut has earned his way all the way and will be considered for any duty needed this year. Expect him to spend his time at IWR for the most part. He is a good blocker with good hands and should see his share of reps on the field, particularly in 2-TE sets or when the Pirates want to go physical. Look for Pasut to show a new enthusiasm this spring.

  • 3. Derrick Harris (JR-TR): For some, when Harris arrived, being the younger brother of former ECU star Dwayne Harris, the bar was set way too high for the Nichols State transfer. For others, the younger Harris was sort of written off as incapable of contending to be the player his brother was. The reality was that Harris was one of the great stories of 2011. There were not big expectations of Harris, who wasn’t a real depth chart challenger heading into the season. But after injuries opened up an opportunity, Harris’s daily preparation met the chance with a result that was one that pleasantly surprised many and now has added a game-ready layer of experience to a nice corps of IWRs. Harris ended up with 23 catches on the season and found pay dirt once for the first time as a Pirate. He also showed very good set of hands and precision in his route running. Expect Harris to compete for a significant spot on the depth chart this spring.

  • 4. Justin Hardy (SO-RS): From the day that Riley arrived on staff, he circled and touted Hardy, saying that the young walk-on would be a player that Pirate fans would be talking about by the time he was finished at ECU. It didn’t take long for Hardy to make good on his coach’s high praise. With Jones out of the lineup, Hardy literally exploded on the season as a redshirt freshman, finishing as the Pirates top receiver on the season, ahead of even Lance Lewis. Hardy found the end zone six times and rolled up 658 yards on 64 grabs in his first season on the field. And he piled those numbers up via a chilling dependability. Riley has said that Hardy’s potential would be realized because of his work ethic at practice. Hardy was nothing short of an emerging star and a good indicator of the type of receivers the new Pirate QB will have to work with. Keep an eye on Hardy in the spring as he should be a leader out there. No sophomore slump for this Pirate.

  • 5. Torian Richardson (SO-RS): Richardson is a guy who came in with a lot of expectations and with such a talented group of young receivers like Webster, Hardy, and Harris, many have spoken about Richardson as if he is a senior who never panned out. Rather, the rising redshirt sophomore is still very much a part of the Pirates receiving pipeline and got a tiny taste of the game in 2011, pulling in 3 catches for 28 yards. He should be primed to compete for a significant spot on the depth chart this spring. Richardson will get his reps with Danny Webster on the shelf for spring and he has the talents to take advantage of those opportunities.

  • 6. Danny Webster (SO): Heading into 2011, Webster found himself, surprisingly, a starter in the opening game against South Carolina. Talk all along was that Webster was ready to play right away. For Webster, the opportunity was invaluable and sets him up — once recovered fully from a late-season injury that will sideline him for spring — for a great sophomore season. The best thing for Webster, who hauled in 43 passes for 418 yards ad a TD, is that he had the opportunity to play through a lot of first-year mistakes. He had some trouble with the physicality of the game as freshman, but by late in the season was tougher and more dependable with the ball in his hands. Now, with Camp Connors and rehab work, Webster's body will be much more able to handle the rigors of being a frontline receiver in top-level college football. He is very much Wes Welker-ish and will be a guy who gets his share of snaps in 2012 and beyond. Despite missing spring ball, Webster will be game ready by the opening date.

  • 7. Donte Sumpter (FR-RS): Sumpter is one of a group of redshirts who come into spring ready to make their first real pushes into the depth chart. For Sumpter, 2011 was indoctrination into the offense and the young receiver did well, drawing high praise from Riley for his efforts in the Thursday night scrimmages and on scout team. Riley has said he is eager to see Sumpter this spring to see how far along he is relative to the other receivers. Sumpter may still be a year away from being a regular on the depth chart, but he will have opportunities to impress this spring.

Position Analysis: Heading into 2011, the Pirates were trying to cope with losing all-everything receiver and team leader Dwayne Harris. It was expected that between Jones and Michael Bowman, the loss would be mitigated to some degree. But with Jones on the shelf with an injury and Bowman passed up on the depth chart, the problem, if you will, was depth. We all saw some great young inside receivers emerge in Hardy, Harris, and Webster but with that came fumbles, blown assignments and no one to take advantage of the doubles going to outside star Lance Lewis. By the time Hardy emerged as a go-to guy, the team was already three games into the season and the O line was already feeling the losses mount. This season, however, the pain of last year will be the joy of this campaign. Now, spring will be used to line up a set of very talented and game-ready receivers. With Jones, Hardy, Webster, Harris and Pasut already geared up, the unit is looking at going into the season with no less than 5 or 6 capable IWRs, which means that whomever wins the battle at QB, they will have ample support on the inside routes.


  • 1. Andrew Bodenheimer (SR): Despite the loss of all-league OWR Lance Lewis, the Pirates need look no further for leadership in the receiving corps. Bodenheimer has been a unit leader going on seasons now and will be the wily veteran across both the IWR and OWR groups. Bodenheimer is consistent if not outstanding and is truly the coach’s example of how to run routes and block down field, the latter being what draws the most praise from his teammates, coaches, and opposing coaches. Opponents coach up their DBs for players like Bodie. He returns as the team’s second leading receiver, having hauled in 46 receptions for 484 yards. Expect Bodenheimer to be atop the OWR depth chart coming out of spring. He well be a man on a mission for his final campaign.

  • 2. Dayon Arrington (SR-SQ): After a season of watching young receivers pass him on the depth chart, the once promising ECU career of Arrington now comes down to this single season. Arrington will have to work very hard in spring to position himself as a starter at OWR. In fact, he may find himself in a battle just to get reps. Arrington will define his career at ECU one way or another this season. He has skills and brings a nice range to the position and has some hops, but he has yet to put it together. If he can get back to his 2010 form, he has a chance to battle for a spot.

  • 3. Reese Wiggins (SO-RS): Bam! Wiggins arrived on the season like a bullet train from a tunnel. Quietly, Wiggins, in the last third of the season, all of a sudden looked like the second coming of Hunter Gallimore, only faster. Wiggins showed an ability to get the step on his coverage and be gone, straight away and efficient. No glam, no gloss, just grab and go. If it was a surprise to Pirates fans, all should know that it was somewhat of a surprise to the coaches, too. Not that Wiggins had that in him, but rather, that it came out so starkly — like a switch was hit. Now expectations are through the roof for Wiggins. Expect him to be the perfect complement to Bodenheimer on the outside. Where Bodie will make the get-to-the-sticks catch, Wiggins will be the game-breaker — different from Lance Lewis, but sort of the same in outcome. Wiggins was by far the biggest catch gainer on the team, averaging nearly 15 yards per reception to pile up 432 yards and 3 TDs — all of which were spectacular in nature. The question Wiggins needs to answer this spring is whether or not he is a flash in the pan, or an emerging star.

  • 4. Antonio Cannon (FR-RS): As a true freshman, Cannon became a regular standout in the Thursday night scrimmages with his only drawback being his physicality. He is a guy, like Lewis was, who has the knack for going up and somehow coming down with the ball, but his body needs to catch up with his abilities. Riley is excited to see how a year of Camp Connors has impacted the up-and-coming OWR. Look for Cannon to make a case for playing time in 2012.

Position Analysis: With the departure of star OWR Lance Lewis, the unit seemingly will take a big hit as Lewis takes with him more than 1,600 yards of offense. But with the relative strength of the IWR corps, Bodenheimer brings more than enough leadership to the OWR group to off-set the loss of the lanky standout. If Wiggins picks up where he left off at the end of last season and if Arrington can regain his 2010 form, then the Pirates will have a lot of success on the outside. If Cannon can physically live up to the demands of top level college football, then the Pirates should be very well positioned, two-deep at the outside positions. Further, as they do each season, the coaches will ensure that all receiver positions have depth, even if they have to shift from IWR to OWR or vice-versa. This unit should be productive in 2012. The spring will be all about locking down the starting role opposite Bodenheimer and seeing which receivers grab the other positions on the depth chart.


  • 1. Josh Clark (SR-RS): For Clark, last year was something like back to the future when he was moved from back-up tackle to starting center. Clark was a standout center at North Gaston coming out of high school but he was moved over to tackle during his early time at ECU. Moving back to center was like riding a bike for Clark... an easy switch... and that switch was noticeable in the line-up. The weakest position on the O line a year ago has suddenly become quite solid at the top of the depth chart. Look for Clark to further solidify the hold on the center position for his final campaign, contributing to what should be a powerful combination at the vanguard of the line alongside two outstanding guards. Clark is also a leader on the line so look for him to demonstrate this more in his final spring camp.

  • 2. C.J. Struyk (FR-RS): Of all the pick-ups last season, it may have been this non-scholarship walk-on that was the most significant. An ECU football legacy, Struyk turned down several offers from 1-AA programs to play football where his father did. And that decision is on the verge of being rewarded for the nationally-ranked deep snapper coming out of West Carteret High School a year ago. Not only is he a good center — don’t forget he started for North Carolina in the Shrine Bowl — but he is incredibly physically strong and now has been through a year with Camp Connors. Riley is excited about Struyk and is counting on him to compete for a depth chart position, hopefully No. 2 at worst. Look for Struyk to live up to the challenge this spring and help provide depth.

  • 3. Taylor Hudson (SO-RS): Hudson has seen time at all three interior positions, including center, and may go into camp focused more at center than at guard. Having a guy who is as versatile as Hudson is a big plus for the team, but more importantly is that Hudson begins to shape himself into a complete lineman. He needs to get himself ready to be an every down guy because he will likely be a primary reserve at each of the interior positions which means he will get a ton of reps if he puts it all together. This is what spring will be about for Hudson who has a big chance to make himself an irreplaceable part of the offensive line.

Position Analysis: The last two seasons have been a near disaster for the Pirates at this position and it is still a very thin and high risk position for the team in 2012 with Mack Helms no longer in the program and Doug Polochak lost to graduation. In Clark, they have a bonafide starter at center who, if he is healthy all season, gives them a superior signal caller and a player who could compete for league honors. However, below him on the depth chart it is murky. For spring, the goal here is to get Clark through the spring without injuries and for Struyk and Hudson to prove they can be every down centers. Keep an eye on this position because it is paramount that at the end of spring, all three of these young men are healthy and competent.


  • 1. Robert Jones (SR-RS): After starting his career on the defensive line, Jones was moved to the offensive line in 2011 to add depth and to begin a transition to a new position. Jones has now absorbed the offense and acclimated to the rigors of the OL and should, in his final campaign, make a run at a spot on the depth chart. At guard, he has the chance to be a dominant player if it all comes together. Keep an eye on Jones in the spring to see how he has made the transition.

  • 2. Will Simmons (JR-RS): One of the brightest spots in the patchwork offense line was Simmons, who not only played every game, he played them with a beast-like mentality that has him poised for potential all-league recognition at the end of the season. Riley spoke so highly of his consistent play and more so of how he has become the emotional leader for the team. He plays only one way — to destroy the opponent — and that is infectious. Simmons should come into camp pumped up to help take this rising offense line to new heights this year. In the spring, keep an eye on his leadership skills because he will lock down his starting job.

  • 3. Jordan Davis (JR-RS): When Davis came into the program he was slotted to be a guard, but with major depth issues and his athleticism, he was moved to left tackle because, as Riley has pointed out, he was the best option out there. As things transpired, Davis ended up moving back down to guard, opposite Simmons, and reminded everyone why he was once slotted to be a guard in the first place. Riley intends to keep him there where his physicality paired with the specter of the hard-nosed Simmons can represent one of the best guard combos in the league. Watch for Davis to get better and better at his natural position this spring and likely lockdown the other guard spot opposite Simmons.

  • 4. Jimmy Booth (JR-RS): With his size and power, Booth could be a force on the offensive line as an attacking guard... and maybe even at center if he has the snapping ability. He is a beast, physically, and brings it in a heavy, compact body. As a junior, he is likely going to use the spring as the beginning of his new journey as a Pirate. Booth is intriguing as an OL, so the spring should provide an exciting opportunity to watch him make that switch.

  • 5. Taylor Hudson (SO-RS): If things go right at center, Hudson will focus on guard. He has shown flashes of fantastic ability but needs to lock it down this spring so he can get about the business of being a primary reserve at all three interior positions. He could be a solid No. 2 at either guard spot. Hudson has talent and has a big body to throw around in there. He will likely get more reps at center than most would want, but if the others at center can prove they can handle the job, then Hudson can focus on the guard slots and prime himself for a season where he sees a lot reps. Pay attention to where he is getting his spring snaps because it will say a lot about the shape of the center and guard positions.

Position Analysis: In Simmons and Davis, the Pirates sport a pair of guards with the potential to be the best in the conference. They are similar in how they attack, play with physicality and take it up a notch in battle. The questions for this unit really comes after the two high-quality starters. In Hudson, the Pirates have a guy who can come in at any of the three interior positions. After Hudson, the questions marks start. Can the converted defensive tackles be ready for playing time this year? Will a tackle like Adhem Elsawi have to move back to guard? These are some of the questions that will be answered in the spring at this position.


  • 1. Grant Harner (JR-RS): A starter as a freshman in 2010, Harner was settled in at right tackle in 2011, but had an injury that hampered his progression. He came back after the injury and finished well. It is expected that he will win the right tackle job again and expect him to be highly motivated to get things going again in the spring — if he is healthy enough to compete. He is currently rehabbing and may miss some of the start of camp. Harner’s key is to be healthy and stay that way because when he is healthy he is a very good tackle. If Harner can lock down the right tackle position, it will be a relief to Riley because the coaches need to focus over on the left side where they have scant depth and are not completely set at starter.

  • 2. Adhem Elsawi (JR-TR): A super smart, physically imposing player, Elsawi started out the season battling at left tackle, then slotted down at guard, and then eventually found himself starting at left tackle where he performed well. In fact, he played so well at left tackle, when he got nicked up and had to come out of the lineup, the drop-off was noticeable. This season, Riley expects Elsawi to stay at left tackle and is hopeful that he will own that spot all season. Still, Elsawi is versatile and can play pretty much each position on the line, sans center, so if the team finds a lights-out left tackle, Elsawi would battle at right or be a primary reserve. Elsawi is a fighter and this spring it is likely he will come out to stake claim to that left tackle spot.

  • 3. Drew Gentry (SO-RS): Gentry had some quality reps in 2011, particularly establishing himself in the UTEP game, which is great news for the offensive line. The expectations have been high for Gentry and he appears to be ready to vie for one of the tackle positions. If he shows up ready to battle for one of the jobs, the Pirates will feel very good about the position. He has the goods to win one of those spots and that is important because, after Gentry, the tackle position is about potential in the form of a quartet of redshirt freshmen.

  • 4. Isaac Harris (FR-RS): Harris is huge-framed — albeit a little light in the 250s. But with a wide wing-span and basketball player athleticism, he fits the mold for tackle in this offense. Riley expressed excitement about Harris, saying he seems to be ahead of his schedule and could vie for depth chart positioning this season. With some thin numbers at tackle for spring camp, Harris will get nothing but reps to prove he is ready to push for a tackle job.

  • 5. Chaz Lowery (FR-RS): Like Harris, Lowery drew high praise from Riley for being ahead of his schedule and ready to compete for playing time this year. A very, very smart athlete, Lowery has adapted well to Camp Connors and is pushing 280 pounds on his 6-5 frame. Lowery understands the blocking schemes and is motivated to play. Expect him to have a solid camp and establish himself as a contender for a job.

  • 6. Stewart Hinson (FR-RS): A mammoth 6-7, 300-pounder, Hinson more than looks the part of a collegiate offensive lineman. He is much stronger now but it is really unknown if he is ready yet. He will get reps in the spring and has the chance to show what he can do. Riley said he is on schedule but might be a year away before his name is bandied about as a potential depth chart mover.

  • 7. Tre Robertson (FR-RS): Like Hinson, Robertson looks the part at 6-5 and 320 pounds, but he could also be a year away. He will get plenty of snaps in the spring as the spots down the depth chart are wide open to be won by whomever wants it the most. Robertson is likely an emerging lineman in 2013, but with depth needs, you cannot rule out his time coming now.

Position Analysis: Depth, depth, depth is the story line for this unit and unfortunately, it is the lack of depth that is the story. The Pirates have a haul of big bodies but most of them are unproven. Harner is a known quantity and Elsawi showed promise in 2011, so the makings of a pair of good bookend tackles are there. But the reality is, beyond those two and perhaps Gentry as a primary reserve, there are more unknowns than knowns. Harris and Lowery have impressed the coaches and are expected to compete as well. Spring will be a lot less about winning positions for the tackles and more about creating a competitive pool of players for the summer work and fall battles.


  • 1. Matt Millisor (JR-RS): If nothing else, Millisor has been patient. After flirting with winning both the place-kicking and punting jobs in 2010 only to lose both, the walk-on from Greensboro now finds himself as a favorite for the place-kicking job heading into the spring. An accurate kicker, Millisor would likely be a dependable option in the kicking game. Maybe not the guy who is going to boom 50 yarders, he will give the Pirates a steady field goal maker in 2012.

  • 2. Warren Harvey (SO): Harvey, a former AP all-state high school place kicker, is local walk-on who had a stellar career at Rose High School before making a commitment to the Pirates. Harvey has a good pedigree and might be in the mix for a shot at the job this spring.

  • 3. Shawn Williams (FR): Another talented kicker, Williams represented the East in the annual East-West All-Star game a year ago following a great season at North Davidson. The battle for the kicking job is a wide-open one and Williams will have as good a shot as any kicker on the roster.

Position Analysis: There had been some talk of a potential return of standout kicker Michael Barbour, but as of this preview, he had not been granted his case by the NCAA. It does not look like he will be available, so the battle for a placekicker is on this spring. Millisor has been in the program for three years and is reliable as a kicker if not super strong-legged. Harvey earned prep honors as an all-state kicker, which is no small feat. You have to expect that Harvey will compete, as will former North Davidson kicker Williams.

E-mail Ron Cherubini

PAGE UPDATED 03/26/12 04:01 AM.

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