Benkert Leads Offensive Improvement

Kurt Benkert (Photo by Kat Jessick)

Behind Kurt Benkert's performance, East Carolina's offense showed plenty of improvement since the last scrimmage.

One week out from the April 12 Spring Football Game, East Carolina participated in another scrimmage in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Kurt Benkert led the offense's tremendous improvement from last week's sub-par outing.

The last time the Pirates scrimmaged, the offense didn't seem fundamentally sound. Despite the offense racking up 436 yards and a touchdown, it was the defense that ran the show. They forced four turnovers—three interceptions and a fumble. This time around, the offense didn't turn the ball over once.

"That's what we've been doing in the spring," said Carden, who threw two picks last week. "Obviously, as the offense, you don't want to turn the ball over and that's what we expect to do. It was a lot better today—no fumbles and no interceptions. There were really no balls in jeopardy that were too close. We did a lot better job of that today."

One major reason for the steady improvement of the offense is the developing chemistry between quarterbacks and receivers. Carden and Benkert have a handful of new targets in the receiving corps. It goes both ways, though. Benkert has consistently improved in his role backing up Carden.

"I think Shane and Kurt are getting used to their receivers," said head coach Ruffin McNeill. "Kurt had the talent last year. We had to get him ready when we had some injuries. He's a hard worker. He's got a great model in front of him with Shane teaching him...His arm is wide, he's very mobile. He's what we want in this offense, as well. He's really very smart. He understands checks, audibles and where to throw the football."

Some of those newcomers are already making an impact in the passing game. Freshman receiver Chris Burston led the team with four catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. Freshman running back Marquez Grayson also contributed with a 27-yard catch.

"It's good," said senior receiver Justin Hardy about the new additions to the receiving corps. "All these guys are hungry. Everybody wants to play and it keeps everybody going. It makes everybody compete."

Benkert completed 10 of 12 pass attempts and accounted for 126 of the offense's 301 yards. He scored one of the afternoon's three touchdowns by hitting DaQuan Barnes with a seven-yard pass.

"He's doing a great job," said Carden, who went 11-for-14 and notched a touchdown. "He's a kid. He wants to learn. He asks a bunch of questions to me. He's a competitor. He's a fun kid to be around. He's coming along and did some great things today." There's still room for improvement, though. Some of the same fundamental struggles from the last scrimmage carried over to this one. They addressed the turnover issue, but were still plagued by penalties. The offense accounted for five of the scrimmage's seven penalties—two holding calls, two false starts and one ineligible receiver.

"You got to keep them corrected," said McNeill. "That's part of it. We've got about four or five months before we play. Just keep trying to work on them. We identified them when it happened. On film, we'll watch and then complete it. Anything that happened is correctable. Like footwork. We're not worried about it."

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