NCF Nation: Rio Johnson

East Carolina spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
2009 overall record: 9-5

2009 conference record: 7-1 (C-USA champions)

Returning starters
5, Defense: 2, Punter/Kicker: 0

Top returners
WR/KR Dwayne Harris, WR Darryl Freeney, OG Cory Dowless, CB Emanuel Davis, CB/PR Travis Simmons, DT Josh Smith

Key losses

C Sean Allen, RB Dominique Lindsay, QB Patrick Pinkney, DE C.J. Wilson (drafted), DT Linval Joseph (drafted), DT Jay Ross, LB Nick Johnson, FS Van Eskridge, P Matt Dodge (drafted), PK Ben Hartman

2009 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: Dominique Lindsay (239-1,180 yards, 6 TD)
Passing: Patrick Pinkney (440-259-12, 2,947 yards, 15 TD)
Receiving: Dwayne Harris* (83-978 yards, 7 TD)
Tackles: Van Eskridge (102)
Sacks: C.J. Wilson (5.5)
Interceptions: Van Eskridge (6)

Spring answers

1. Bringing in new schemes: Installing both the new offensive and defensive schemes this spring was the main priority for first-year head coach Ruffin McNeill. At the end of spring, he said he was pleased with the installation progress of new systems on both sides of the ball, moving from a pro-set scheme to a passing-oriented spread look on offense and implementing more of an attacking, blitzing and man-cover concept on defense.

2. Looking for more options: Dwayne Harris emerged as the Pirates' go-to receiver last season, but in the offense, the Pirates need multiple weapons and found them in redshirt freshmen receivers Mike Price, Reese Wiggins and Torrance Hunt. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley even converted 6-foot-8 tight end Justin Jones to the “Big Y” position, which will utilize Jones as a third-down option or possession receiver.

3. Front-seven fiasco: ECU lost its front seven from a year ago, but made big strides this spring in replacing those key players, especially on the line. Redshirt freshman end Matt Milner, tackles Josh Smith and Antonio Allison and hybrid rush end Marke Powell, who lined up as a true freshman linebacker in 2009, all made impacts this spring. Middle LB Steve Spence and WLB Dustin Lineback also have potential for 2010.

Fall questions

1. Can the walk-on hold on? Sophomore walk-on quarterback Brad Wornick unexpectedly climbed to the top of the depth chart to earn the starting nod out of camp, but he’ll have to earn the spot again in the fall against Rio Johnson, Josh Jordan, and transfer Dominique Davis, a former Boston College quarterback who attended spring workouts as an observer but did not play.

2. Running game woes: The running game was a source of consternation for Riley, who was expecting better from a team that was known for its running efforts under former coach Skip Holtz. Senior Jonathan Williams could be the starter if he can stay out of off-field trouble and redshirt freshman Michael Dobson turned heads during spring drills. Seniors Giavanni Ruffin and Norman Whitley missed most of the spring and Brandon Jackson was removed from the team for disciplinary reasons.

3. Reloading on defense: East Carolina’s back-to-back Conference USA titles have been largely a product of stellar defense, but with nine starters gone, McNeill is really starting from scratch despite an encouraging spring. Only cornerbacks Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons return, but everyone will be learning a new scheme.
Recently, several of my co-workers have been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team this spring. I thought I would jump in on the action.

During the next few weeks, I’m going to look at the strengths and weaknesses of every team I cover. They’ll be posted alphabetically by conference. So let’s start with Conference USA and the spring superlatives for East Carolina.

Strongest position: Wide receiver

Key returners: Senior Dwayne Harris (83 catches, 978 yards, seven touchdowns), junior Darryl Freeney (48 catches, 718 yards, three touchdowns), junior Joe Womack (12 catches, 141 yards), sophomore Andrew Bodenheimer (six catches, 87 yards)

Key departures: Alex Taylor (35 catches, 367 yards), Jamar Bryant (22 catches, 205 yards, two touchdowns), Reyn Willis (six catches, 107 yards, one touchdown).

The skinny: The receiver position is the deepest of all positions for the Pirates this spring, and that depth will be critical as they switch to a Texas Tech spread style of offense. Harris is one of the most dynamic players in the country both as a receiver and as a kick returner, and he will be East Carolina’s premier receiver yet again.

Weakest position: Quarterback

Key returners: Sophomore Josh Jordan (three career games, 5 of 7 passing, 61 yards), redshirt freshman Rio Johnson.

Key departures: Patrick Pinkney (32 career starts, 6,980 career passing yards, 39 career passing touchdowns, 23 career interceptions)

The skinny: East Carolina has just two scholarship quarterbacks heading into the spring and neither has significant experience. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is looking for a quarterback who can spread the ball around and he might not find that guy this spring. On the bright side, the Pirates did get a commitment from former Boston College quarterback Dominique Davis in December, but he didn’t enroll in January, which voided his letter of intent. However, hopes are high that Davis does end up in Greenville in August, joining true freshman Shane Carden.