2009 East Carolina Preview - Offense

East Carolina C Sean Allen

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - East Carolina Pirate Offense

East Carolina Pirates

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN East Carolina Preview | 2009 East Carolina Offense
- 2009 East Carolina Defense | 2009 East Carolina Depth Chart
- 2008 ECU Preview | 2007 ECU Preview | 2006 ECU Preview 

What you need to know: East Carolina was home to one of Conference USA’s most feeble offenses in 2008, yet it was the league champ. So much for the necessity of a high-powered attack in the 21st century. More economical than explosive, the Pirates aim for a balanced offense that they hope will be more efficient on third down and in the red zone than a year ago. They got a late Christmas gift in January, when QB Patrick Pinkney was granted a sixth year of eligibility. The poster child for the system, he won’t light up the scoreboard, but he also won’t make many mistakes or put his team in deficit situations. As the running game continues its search for a leading man, he could be asked to do a little more than usual through the air. The wide receivers, led by senior Jamar Bryant and junior Dwayne Harris, are underutilized, and the offensive line should be the best in the Skip Holtz era. A few more conversions by this group could salt away games that otherwise wind up in an extra session.               

Returning Leaders
Passing: Patrick Pinkney
223-363, 2,675 yds, 13 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Norman Whitley
142 carries, 698 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Dwayne Harris
58 catches, 654 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Patrick Pinkney
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Brandon Jackson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OG Cory Dowless
Best pro prospect: Senior C Sean Allen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pinkney, 2) Allen, 3) OG Doug Palmer
Strength of the offense: Veteran QBs, Receivers
Weakness of the offense: Red Zone Offense, Pass Protection


Projected Starter
: East Carolina’s quest for back-to-back conference championships got a little easier when 6-0, 198-pound senior Patrick Pinkney was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He’s not a prolific quarterback. He doesn’t have to be prolific. He just needs to win, which he’s done plenty in Greenville. The most mobile of the quarterbacks, he can make plays with his feet and throws a soft ball on the move. Last season, he went 223-of-363 for 2,675 yards, 13 touchdowns, and seven picks, adding 50 yards and a score on the ground. However, it’s his poise in the huddle and ability to rally the troops, which are his greatest assets.

Projected Top Reserves: No one looks the part more than senior Rob Kass, a 6-4, 250-pounder, who can hurl the ball a mile. In many ways an ideal backup, he’s played in 23 career games and started eight, providing a terrific insurance policy in the event that something happens to Pinkney. Although he can stretch a defense, his accuracy and touch have been sporadic, going 25-of-54 last season for 321 yards, two touchdowns, and two scores.

Getting a leg up for 2010 will be 6-4, 210-pound redshirt freshman Josh Jordan, who’ll spend one more season as the understudy behind the two seniors. He has a blend of Pinkney’s quick feet and Kass’ strong arm, an ideal combination once he gets more comfortable with the playbook and the speed of the game.

Watch Out For… Pinkney to get more opportunities to shine as a passer. Not only will this be his third season as a starter behind center, but he’s surrounded by his best collection of receivers, a brew that could mean a few more shots downfield than last season.
Strength: Poise and decision-making. You just can’t rattle Pinkney, a huge plus in an offense that doesn’t take a ton of risks and will rely heavily on the defense and running game. He’s not going to force the action, and for his career, he’s thrown a pick every 50 or so passes. Basically, he puts the Pirates in a position to win, which is what the program asks of its quarterbacks.
Weakness: Big plays. Although East Carolina doesn’t pretend to be Tulsa or Houston, a few more connections downfield would be nice and would open things up for the running game. The Pirates were ninth in the league in both yards per game and total touchdowns.
Outlook: In many ways, this became an ideal situation for East Carolina when Pinkney was granted another year of eligibility. It has a proven starter at the top of the depth chart, a fifth-year senior in the two-hole, and the future learning from the bullpen. They may not be fantasy league favorites, but this trio has the Pirates poised for a run at another Conference USA championship.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters
: To say that the running game is in a state of flux would be a gross understatement. Last season’s top three rushers have either quit the program, graduated, or are trying to fulfill the guidelines of a suspension. When the dust cleared this spring, a transfer from Kentucky, 5-10, 195-pound sophomore Brandon Jackson, was the frontrunner to be the feature back. If he can stay out of trouble, he has the all-purpose skill set, including great hands out of the backfield and vision in the hole, to be a dynamite playmaker in this league. He played well enough in the offseason to have a huge role in the offense, which might include being the primary ballcarrier.

Projected Top Reserves: The Pirates are cautiously optimistic that 5-10, 210-pound senior Dominique Lindsay can bounce back from a knee injury that shelved him for the entire 2008 season. A tough runner, who’ll do most of his work between the tackles, he has 29 games of experience and was tabbed as the starter before getting hurt. As a reserve in 2007, he carried 66 times for 205 yards and five touchdowns, adding nine catches for 58 yards and another score.

Providing a little more flash and speed out of the backfield will be 5-11, 197-pound senior J.R. Rogers. In his first season out of Bakersfield (Calif.) Community College, he got into the rotation with 33 carries for 134 carries, most of which came in the final month of the regular season and the Liberty Bowl.

Watch Out For… new developments away from the field. Last year’s leading rusher, 5-9, 187-pound junior Norman Whitley, is participating in summer workouts, yet his status with the team for 2009 has not been determined by Skip Holtz. Ditto 6-1, 196-pound junior Jonathan Williams, who’d rushed for 380 yards and five scores in seven games before getting booted by the coach.
Strength: Tough runners. Regardless of who actually suits up in the fall, the Pirates are confident that they’ll have a collection of runners capable of working the interior of opposing defenses and constantly drive for extra yards. As a whole, it’s a physical group that fits the personality of the offense.
Weakness: The uncertainty. Lindsay is coming off major knee surgery. Whitley and Williams aren’t sure if they’re in the plans for the 2009 season. There’s an obvious lack of chemistry and stability that the coaching staff hopes to correct before Appalachian State visits on Sept. 5.
Outlook: It’s way too early to get an accurate read on this unit. If everyone is back without further incident, the Pirates will arguably have the deepest and most diverse backfield in Conference USA. If not, the program will be forced to put an awful lot of emphasis on Jackson, who has talent, but no experience at this level. To be fair, the backs deserve an incomplete grade until everything sorts out in the fall.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters
: The returns of just about every key player from 2008 means East Carolina could have its best collection of wide receivers in years. Senior Jamar Bryant has as much natural ability as any of the receivers, but needs to maintain his focus throughout the season. Originally a Georgia Bulldog, he’d caught 19 balls for 216 yards and three touchdowns before getting suspended in October for violating team rules. A physical 6-2, 208-pounder, he’s a talented downfield and an underrated blocker on running downs. He has a shot at an NFL career if he only makes news on the field this fall.

Joining Bryant in the lineup will be 6-0, 198-pound junior Dwayne Harris, arguably the most dynamic all-purpose player in Greenville. He’ll do a little bit of everything for the Pirates, using his speed and shiftiness to make plays as a receiver, runner, and special teams standout. Despite missing four games with a foot injury, he still had a team-high 58 receptions for 654 yards and a score, while rushing 19 times for 76 yards.

In three-wide sets, 6-1, 195-pound sophomore Joe Womack is the top candidate to get on the field. He shined as a rookie, shedding his redshirt out of necessity to start four games and make 17 receptions for 230 yards. He’s shown flashes of big-play ability, and will see an expanded role in the passing game with each passing season.

The biggest offseason hit was the graduation of ultra-productive TE Davon Drew, who is being replaced by 6-2, 260-pound junior Kevin Gidrey. More of a hybrid than a traditional tight end, he’ll play fullback in short yardage packages and a little H-back when the need arises. A two-time letterwinner and seven-game starter in 2008, he caught four passes for 26 yards in a prelude to this season.

Projected Top Reserves: When Bryant was suspended, 6-4, 210-pound senior Alex Taylor stepped into the void and caught 23 balls for 310 yards and a touchdown. He’ll once again provide valuable depth on the outside, giving the Pirates a consistent veteran presence, with the size and the leaping ability to sky high above overmatched defenders.

Sophomore Darryl Freeney, like Womack, was forced into the deep end of the pool, and remained afloat throughout the season. A 5-11, 196-pound playmaker, he showed good burst and a knack for the big play, catching 22 passes for 352 yards and two scores, including a breakout effort versus Kentucky in the Liberty Bowl. 

Watch Out For…Bryant’s mindset. If the senior has his eye on the ball throughout the season, he has a chance to earn All-Conference honors and a pro contract. He’s that complete of a receiver. If he has any transgressions, however, the coaching staff is unlikely to give him any more latitude.  
Strength: Depth. The upside to last season’s injuries and suspension is that some of the younger kids were forced to remove the training wheels a year earlier than expected. Now that receivers, such as Womack, Freeney, and Taylor, got far more reps than expected, East Carolina goes two-deep at wide receiver with talented and experienced players.
Weakness: Tight end. Gidrey is a very nice player to have on a team, but there’s no way he’ll replace Drew production of 43 catches for 695 yards and three touchdowns. Any drop-off at the position will be noticed because of how much the program likes to use the middle of the field in the passing game.
Outlook: After some dark moments a year ago, the Pirate wide receivers are about to bask in the glow of being one of Conference USA’s best collections of pass-catchers. Assuming there are no more defections or injuries, the unit has it all, from quality veterans and underclassmen to speed and size. As the backfield takes time to get in shape, the wideouts will get a rare chance to be the headliners of the offense.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters
: With a slew of returning starters and lettermen up front, East Carolina will once again boast one of the league’s most formidable offensive lines. At the heart of the unit will be 6-3, 307-pound senior Sean Allen, one of Conference USA’s premier centers. Although last year was his first as a regular, you couldn’t tell by the way he performed. Reliable with his snaps and quick out of the gate, he’ll be even better with that full season of experience in the rear view mirror.

The feel-good story of the unit was authored by 6-5, 320-pound senior Terrance Campbell, who made a successful return from a heart ailment to start 10 games, alternating between left and right tackle. Depending on who else is available, he can stay at right tackle or move to guard and be an absolute mauler in the running game. He led the Pirates in knockdowns in 2008, and is extremely difficult to move off his base.

The more sure-thing to be at guard this season is 6-5, 287-pound junior Cory Dowless, who started all 14 games on the left side in 2008. A quality athlete, who did a nice job in pass protection, he also finished third on the team with 43 knockdowns. He only scratched the surface of his potential in 2008, laying the foundation for what could be an all-star career before he’s through.

At one tackle spot, East Carolina is banking on 6-6, 320-pound junior D.J. Scott to help improve the team’s overall pass protection. While there were predictable holes in his game early on, he got better as the season progressed and wound up starting 10 games. On pure physical ability alone, he has the upper body strength and long arms to excel once he improves his footwork and fundamentals.

The biggest unknown at this point will be 6-6, 280-pound junior Willie Smith, who came out of spring with a tentative hold on one of the tackle jobs. Although he looks the part and has the athleticism to eventually become the prototype at the position, the converted tight end lacks the experience of his teammates and could get exposed in his debut as a starter.

Projected Top Reserves: After earning his first letter and starting a pair of games, 6-6, 291-pound junior Travis Melvin returns as the team’s most experienced backup tackle. Long, lean, and light on his feet, he has the staff excited about his next two seasons, but remains raw and in need of more snaps before challenging for a full-time job.

At guard, 6-2, 317-pound senior T.J. Harper immediately worked his way into the rotation in his first year out of Pearl River (Miss.) Community College, appearing in all 14 games. Very strong in his base and at the point of contact, he made a smooth transition to the FBS, and provides outstanding depth from the second unit.

Watch Out For… the fate of 6-3, 300-pound senior Doug Palmer. He’s one of the top guards in Conference USA, but he’s also on probation with the team after getting suspended in the spring. A nasty, physical blocker, he brings a certain attitude and swagger to the line. If he returns in the summer, it could shift Campbell back to tackle and Smith to the second team, where he can learn with a little less scrutiny.
Strength: Depth. Assuming Palmer fulfills his obligations to the program, the Pirates could have as many as three linemen with starting experience on the second team. Skip Holtz has been working toward a day when he had both experience and talent filling out the two-deep. That day has arrived in Greenville.
Weakness: Pass protection. For the second straight season, the Pirates have struggled to protect the pocket up to the staff’s liking. For a team that threw the ball less than all but three Conference USA schools, finishing 70th nationally in sacks allowed is just unacceptable. There should be enough talent on this unit to give Patrick Pinkney the time he needs to locate an improving group of wide receivers.
Outlook: Now that the talent and depth are in place, it’s time for the Pirate offensive line to produce up to its potential. If Palmer is in the mix, as expected, the program could have as many as three or four all-leaguers, which should mean bigger holes for the running backs and more time for the quarterbacks to survey the field.
Rating: 6.5


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