2012 East Carolina Preview – Offense
East Carolina WR Justin Hardy
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - East Carolina Pirate Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: If the Air Raid is going to continue producing record-breaking numbers, the Pirates will need to develop a successor to prolific passer Dominique Davis. The staff spent the spring auditioning four contenders, a process that'll continue deep into the summer. Last year's backup, junior Rio Johnson, has a razor-thin edge, but young Shane Carden and Cody Keith have not backed down from their elder. The eventual starter will have access to more quantity than quality at the skill positions. East Carolina has amassed a fair amount of talent, but no legitimate stars. RB Reggie Bullock showed flashes in his debut out of junior-college, but was only healthy enough to earn four starts. The wild card in the backfield is North Carolina transfer Hunter Furr, a size-speed type back the likes of which they rarely see in Greenville. The receivers will be a workmanlike group headed by former walk-on Justin Hardy, who set school freshman records a year ago. The Pirates will continue to go four-wide, shunning a tight end and a fullback in favor of speedier targets in the passing game. Massive RG Will Simmons is the clear-cut leader of a seasoned offensive line that has to do a far better job at the point of attack than it did in 2011.
Star of the offense: Sophomore WR Justin Hardy
Passing: Rio Johnson
20-29, 157 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Torrance Hunt
109 carries, 489 yds, 2 TDs
Receiving: Justin Hardy
64 catches, 658 yds, 6 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: The new quarterback
Unsung star on the rise: Senior RB Reggie Bullock
Best pro prospect: Junior RG Will Simmons
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hardy, 2) Simmons, 3) Bullock
Strength of the offense: The passing attack, depth at the skill positions, red-zone scoring
Weakness of the offense: Uncertainty under center, the O-line, turnovers
Four Pirates entered the ring in the battle to replace record-setter Dominique Davis. And none was eliminated at the conclusion of spring. The coaching staff has yet to anoint a starter, a process that'll continue into the summer. If there's a slight favorite, it would likely be 6-2, 188-pound Rio Johnson , Davis' caddy a year ago. The junior appeared in four games, completing 20-of-29 passes for 157 yards and an interception. He has a strong arm, agile feet and arguably the best feel for the Air Raid offense.
The elder statesman is 6-2, 192-pound senior Brad Wornick, a former walk-on with the program. He's poised and unflappable, but also has limited upside compared to the field, and has only attempted 19 career passes for a reason.
There are also two underclassmen grappling for snaps. Sophomore Shane Carden brings his own selling points to the competition, including advanced athleticism and a couple of years getting tutored in Houston by former Texas Tech hurler B.J. Symons. The 6-2, 216-pounder was groomed to play in this system.
Finally, 6-3, 189-pound redshirt freshman Cody Keith is getting his first chance to showcase his skills now that he's fully healed from an ankle injury. He's a student of the game, and has already started conducting himself with all of the poise and confidence of an upperclassman.
Watch Out For .... Johnson to hold on … barely. He has the most experience and the right skill set to flourish over time in this system. However, it might go until the eleventh hour before his name appears atop the depth chart. The junior's competition has not taken its foot off the gas since last season ended.
Strength: Competition. A hotly-contested battle for a marquee position has a knack for bringing out the best in the contenders. So far, it has in Greenville. The four quarterbacks with a shot of getting the ball on opening day all showed off their unique talents to a coaching staff that will have a difficult decision to make in August.
Weakness: A lack of experience. If someone doesn't stepped up and own this job soon, then four times zero will still equal zero. None of the quartet has ever started a game or even played significant minutes at East Carolina. The program is about to enter a brave new world on offense, with a green quarterback calling signals.
Outlook: Coordinator Lincoln Riley is a terrific developer of young quarterbacks. He'll need to be even better than that as East Carolina embarks on the 2012 season. Yeah, the Pirates have upside potential, but it remains to be seen if they house the kind of player who can maximize the talent around him in a pass-happy system. At a minimum, ECU needs to find its man, ending any speculation or controversy as early as possible.
The program likes its feature back. It'll love him if he can remain healthy for the entire year. Senior Reggie Bullock showed flashes in his debut from Arizona Western Community College, but was only healthy for half of the year. However, he did start four games, rushing for 428 yards and four touchdowns on 95 carries. The 5-9, 178-pounder runs with unexpected authority, and will be a dangerous factor in the passing game as well.
Behind Bullock will be 6-0, 185-pound junior Michael Dobson , a multi-faceted all-around athlete. Quick, athletic and skilled as a receiver, he rushed for a career-high 221 yards and three touchdowns on 63 carries, while catching 11 balls for 96 yards.
Looking to close the gap on the depth chart will be junior Hunter Furr , a transfer from North Carolina. No one in the backfield—or arguably the program—possesses a better combination of size and speed than the 6-0, 223-pounder. He played sparingly in Chapel Hill, but has way too much natural ability not to be further cultivated in Greenville.
Fourth in the pecking order is junior Torrance Hunt , who is actually the team's leading returning rusher. The 5-8, 177-pounder stepped into the lineup when Bullock was hurt, running 109 times for 489 yards and two touchdowns. He's not very big, but he can fly, and will produce long gainers when given the space to operate.
Watch Out For .... the Furr to fly. He's big. He's fast. And he's an ACC-caliber athlete now playing in Conference USA. Furr may be listed No. 3 on the depth chart entering the summer, but by the end of the year, he'll have received more than a third-stringer's workload.
Strength: Depth. Assuming everyone, specifically Bullock, can remain healthy all year, the Pirates will have far more viable options out of the backfield than they did last season. East Carolina now legitimately goes four-deep, with a nice mix of speed and pass-catching ability.
Weakness: Power backs. Consistent with the style of offense ECU plays, its backs are quick, undersized and versatile. However, who picks up the tough yards in short yardage? Furr is the biggest of the backs—by far—but will still need to prove that he can work the area between the tackles when needed.
Outlook: If Bullock stays healthy and the staff uses its options wisely, East Carolina will house one of Conference USA's most underrated collections of running backs. Bullock has feature back qualities, while Furr has the kind of skill set that doesn't call Greenville home too often. The Pirates are a pass-first team, but they'll still want to maximize the talents of their backs.
Eight Pirates caught at least 20 passes in 2011. Five are back, headed by 6-0, 185-pound sophomore Justin Hardy , who set school freshman records with 64 receptions for 658 yards and six touchdowns. The former walk-on is about to become a fixture at "Y", one of the two slot positions, using good speed, reliable hands and budding fundamentals to gain position on opposing defenders.
Hardy's backup at "Y" is Justin Jones, a situational receiver with the size to create instant matchup problems. At 6-8 and 257 pounds, he's basically a super-sized and a natural on jump balls. Severely limited by injuries in 2011, he has still turned nine of his 27 career catches into touchdowns.
At the other inside position, "H", 5-10, 175-pound sophomore Danny Webster and 5-7, 175-pound junior Derrick Harris are going neck-and-neck into the summer. A former high school quarterback, Webster is a playmaker from the inside. Before suffering a season-ending knee injury in November, he'd started six games, catching 43 passes for 418 yards and a score. Harris is the younger brother of former Pirates star Dwayne Harris, and a surprise three-game starter in 2011. He caught 23 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.
The veteran on the outside, or "Z" is senior Andrew Bodenheimer , a three-time letterwinner and owner of 22 career starts. He's coming off his best season in Greenville, which was marked by 46 catches for 484 yards. The 6-3, 202-pound former walk-on plays with a blue-collar edge, making the tough catch in traffic, fighting for additional yards and never shying away from throwing a block downfield.
Rounding out the unit at "X", the other outside position will be a collaborative effort involving 5-11, 188-pound junior Reese Wiggins and 6-2, 200-pound senior Dayon Arrington . In limited reps, Wiggins showed an awful lot of potential, turning 29 receptions into 432 yards and three scores. While still somewhat raw, he is explosive, producing the Pirates' two longest plays from scrimmage in 2011. Arrington has been a career backup, a trend he's trying to change this fall. While he's big and physical, it's yet to translate to the field.
Watch Out For .... Webster to really bloom once he returns from last year's knee injury. It says a lot about his makeup that he became the first Pirate true freshman in 14 years to start an opener. He has a special ability to make plays, often at clutch moments, which will continue to mushroom in his second season.
Strength: Depth. Now that the Air Raid has been in place for a couple of seasons, East Carolina is beginning to feel comfortable with the group of athletes it's developing at wide receiver. The Pirates boasts seven holdovers who've earned at least one letter, and a nice mix size, speed and physicality.
Weakness: Consistency. The staff wants to see better execution from the pass-catchers, especially now that its best player, Lance Lewis, has graduated. With an additional year of experience in the system, the team is looking for better routes, fewer drops and improved blocking by the receivers without the ball in their hands.
Outlook: East Carolina's receivers will be marked more by their quantity than their quality. Now, that's not to suggest that the Pirates aren't gifted. They are, but they don't house a true star, such as Lewis or Harris. Instead, the passing game will lean on a solid ensemble of veterans, such as Hardy, Wiggins, Webster and Bodenheimer, to help support the development of the new man behind center.
With the graduation of just one lineman, the Pirates feel as if they have the ingredients of a stable offensive line. The cornerstone of the group will once again be junior RG Will Simmons , the program's best all-around blocker. The 6-5, 336-pounder started all 12 games a year, showing off tremendous upper body strength to go along with the ability to blow opposing linemen off the ball on running downs.
Simmons' partner at left guard will be 6-3, 303-pound junior Jordan Davis . He started last year's first four games at tackle before proving to be a better fit on the interior. He went on to start the final seven games at guard, finding a home that'll continue reside within this fall.
The all-important left tackle position appears as if it'll be handled by junior Adhem Elsawi , who has taken the circuitous route to Greenville. The 6-5, 318-pounder is a transfer from Campbell University, with the versatility and smarts to play multiple positions. In an injury-shortened debut with the Pirates, he started five games at left guard and a pair at right tackle.
The competition at right tackle is pitting 6-6, 308-pound junior Grant Harner versus 6-3, 310-pound senior Robert Jones . Harner has far more experience at the position, having started in each of the last two seasons, but has been hindered by a left ankle injury since the end of last season. Jones is an interesting competitor, because he was originally a defensive lineman before switching sides of the ball. He missed the 2009 and 2010 seasons with a knee injury, but looked in the spring as if he was back to approaching full strength.
The pivot is going to be the domain of 6-5, 294-pound sophomore Taylor Hudson , who earned a letter as a member of the special teams unit. Undersized when he first arrived, he has packed on more than 20 pounds of muscle in order to better handle the rigors of playing in the middle of the line.
Watch Out For .... Elsawi to exceed expectations. While he was not recruited out of high school, he's come a long way in a very short period of time. He has ideal size, has picked up the offense quickly and learned an awful lot in his first season of action in 2011.
Strength: Guard. Both of the regulars are returning starters, and Simmons is a pile-driving anchor on the right side. If Hudson can get up to speed quickly, the Pirates should be effective on the interior of the line.
Weakness: Pass protection. Okay, East Carolina does throw the ball plenty, but 92nd nationally in sacks allowed is still a level of futility that needs to be addressed. There's been a lot of shuffling around that's taken place since the end of last year, making chemistry and continuity difficult for this unit to achieve.
Outlook: The East Carolina O-line didn't cut it last season, and there are justifiable doubts whether that trend can be reversed in 2012. Simmons has a chance to be the exception of a front wall littered with journeymen. It's important that Harner gets healthy this summer, or else the Pirates could be forced to use a right tackle with no meaningful reps in years.
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East Carolina Offense
2012 East Carolina Defense |
East Carolina Depth Chart