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Random Spring Thoughts: E.C.U.

Using a combination of various computer programs and the Internet — a task nearly beyond my limited computing skills — I selected 25 F.B.S. teams at random. Teams lucky enough to have been randomly selected will be reviewed with several random thoughts as we enter the heart of spring practice. Up first: East Carolina, home of the rapidly disappearing coach.

The pounds have melted off East Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill since he underwent gastric bypass surgery in January: 80 pounds thus far, according to Bruce Feldman of ESPN, with more on the way once McNeill takes care of a painful hip injury yet unresolved. McNeill is not quite down to his playing weight back in his days at E.C.U., but the slimmed-down second-year coach has already noticed an increase in his mobility and a “sharper” focus, according to a pre-spring interview.

Perhaps McNeill’s own increased agility served as the impetus behind his decision to move from a 4-3 base defensive set to a 3-4, which should allow E.C.U. to put athletes on the field in a position to make plays in space. Or maybe the change is simply a result of needing improvement from the country’s second-worst defense? More random E.C.U. thoughts come below:

Dominique Davis might throw for 5,000 yards. The former Boston College transfer threw for nearly 4,000 last fall, his first full season as a starter on this level, and should develop along with the rest of the offense in his second year in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s pass-heavy system. Davis lost the services of Dwayne Harris, who exhausted his eligibility, but can count Lance Lewis (89 receptions for 1,116 yards) among his returning options at receiver.

He might also lead the team in rushing. Not quite. Davis is still E.C.U.’s leading returning rusher from a year ago (176 yards) as well as the only player on the roster with more than 11 career carries. Lost starter Jonathan Williams made the most of the times E.C.U. did run the ball, averaging 5.5 yards per carry with 10 scores, so the Pirates must replace his lost production from a group led by sophomore Michael Dobson, he of the 11-carry 2010 campaign.

This defense isn’t improving overnight. There remain too many questions to address, too many holes to fill, to expect any monumental leap forward in 2011. Can the Pirates make enough of an improvement to factor heavily into the Conference USA race? You better believe it: remember that this defense doesn’t need to pitch shutouts, merely be stingy on occasion — a couple stops isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

I’d stress the special teams. E.C.U. has the offense yet lacks answers on defense, meaning there’s little separating the Pirates — philosophically — from Tulsa, Southern Mississippi and a few of their more one-dimensional Conference USA brethren. Perhaps E.C.U. can gain an advantage over such opposition by excelling on special teams, something this team remains capable of doing despite losing Harris as a return man. The kicking game is in good hands — feet? — with senior Michael Barbour. Punter Ben Ryan needs to improve, true. But receiver Michael Bowman showed flashes of talent on kick returns last fall, and perhaps Dobson — should E.C.U. not want to task its potential starting back — can lend a hand in the return game.

The E.C.U. sports information department continues to excel. Year in and year out, few schools in the F.B.S. put together a more in-depth, detailed and informative media package than those good folks in Greenville. This year’s spring package clocks in at 74 pages; not quite Alabama, weighing in at more than 100 pages, but pretty thick.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Burnt Orange says:

    Tough non conference schedule – N.Carolina,S. Carolina,Navy,Va. Tech.

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