2013 East Carolina Preview – Offense

Posted Jul 28, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - East Carolina Pirates Offense

East Carolina Pirates

Preview 2013 - Offense

- 2013 East Carolina Preview | 2013 East Carolina Offense
- 2013 East Carolina Defense | 2013 East Carolina Depth Chart

What You Need To Know:
The Air Raid switched quarterbacks in 2012, yet remained high-powered, very good news going forward for coordinator Lincoln Riley's offense. The Pirates were just 56th nationally in total offense, but averaged 42 points over the final seven games. Much of the credit for the late flurry belongs to junior QB Shane Carden, who came off the bench in September to rescue the quarterback position. He returns, as does leading receiver Justin Hardy and all but one starter from the offensive line. The fate of 1,000-yard rusher Vintavious Cooper, though, will remain a judgment call for the coaching staff. The senior was suspended in March, and the specifics about his return are uncertain. In order to be a complete production in Greenville, East Carolina needs Cooper around to keep defenses honest on the ground. With No. 21 on the field, the Pirates boast one of the most balanced and explosive attacks in Conference USA.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Shane Carden
273-413, 3,116 yds, 23 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Vintavious Cooper
200 carries, 1,049 yds, 7 TDs
Receiving: Justin Hardy
88 catches, 1,105 yds, 11 TDs

Star of the offense: Junior WR Justin Hardy
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LT Isaac Harris
Unsung star on the rise: Senior WR Lance Ray
Best pro prospect: Senior RG Will Simmons
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hardy, 2) Simmons, 3) Junior QB Shane Carden
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, the passing game, red-zone offense, third-down efficiency
Weakness of the offense: Running back depth, pass protection


Considering how well he played in 2012, it's hard to imagine that junior Shane Carden didn't even begin the season as the starting quarterback in Greenville. He took over in Week 2, and went on to deliver one of the better statistical years in program history. Carden completed 273-of-413 passes for 3,116 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also showcased his athleticism by scrambling for eight more scores. The 6-2, 218-pounder tries to model his game after Brett Favre, staring down pressure in the pocket, and making things happen on the move. He also has a nice feel for the spread, having learned the system in high school in Houston from Texas Tech gunslinger B.J. Symons.

The new veteran off the bench is 6-3, 200-pound sophomore Cody Keith, who's expected to move up a rung on the depth chart. He has no experience to date, but he's a nice all-around athlete, with the confidence and demeanor of a far more seasoned player.

Watch Out For .... rookie Kurt Benkert to continue his assault on the backup job. The three-star signee from Cape Coral, Fla. took part in spring drills, and is listed No. 3 on the depth chart. The 6-3, 206-pounder has already shown a tendency for throwing with nice touch and accuracy.
Strength: Accuracy. Carden throws a very catchable and soft ball, helping make life easier for his receivers. He anticipates well and spins off a tight spiral, completing just over two-thirds of his passes in 2012 to rank No. 2 in Conference USA.
Weakness: Depth. The Pirates didn't skip a beat when they tested their depth in 2012, but would the same be true in 2013? While Carden will begin the season as one of Conference USA's best passers, neither of his backups have even attempted a pass at this level.
Outlook: Although the quarterback situation was a mess at this time last year, such is not the case as 2013 is set to begin. Carden performed like a franchise player last season, and should be even tighter in his reads and his throws now that he has a full slate as the starter under his belt. With No. 5 in the huddle, East Carolina will never be out of a game in 2013.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Senior Vintavious Cooper was a revelation in 2012, his first at East Carolina since transferring from Southwest Mississippi Community College. He seized control of a muddled backfield situation to rush for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns on 200 carries, while catching 26 balls for 229 yards and another score. Quicker than fast, the 5-9, 189-pound All-Conference USA second-teamer had a habit of darting in and out of traffic en route to four 100-yard games. However, on March 8, Cooper was suspended from the program for misdemeanor possession of marijuana charges. He's likely to miss some action, but how much time he sits will have a profound impact on the offense.

The suddenly pivotal backup job now belongs to 6-0, 194-pound sophomore Chris Hairston. The returning letterman played in 11 games in 2012, but did not log a single carry. Modestly recruiting out high school, and slowed by a knee injury suffered in 2011, he's just now getting close to unleashing all of his speed.

Currently running third on the depth chart is 5-10, 201-pound sophomore Cory Hunter. The walk-on is a self-made player who's going to bring it on every down, both as a blocker and as a ballcarrier.

Watch Out For .... the newcomers. East Carolina signed a complementary pair of junior college recruits, 5-7, 177-pound Breon Allen and 5-11, 228-pound Terrell Lane. Both were going to get a crack at reps before Cooper got in trouble. Now, they're practically being counted to climb the depth and eat up carries.
Strength: Cooper (assuming he's eligible). It's basically Cooper and everybody else in the backfield. He played so well within the confines of the offense in his debut, running extremely well, and serving as a nice outlet in the passing game. The Pirates need No. 21 to get back on the field because he is a bona fide difference-maker.
Weakness: Depth. The feature back is currently on suspension. All of his understudies combined for exactly zero carries a year ago. That is, by definition, a precarious situation for a backfield as the season quickly approaches.
Outlook: Naturally, the outlook for the backfield is going to swing in whatever direction that the suspension winds blow for Cooper. If he misses the opener with Old Dominion, the Pirates are fine. If he's out for longer, or fails to stay off the police blotter, ECU will need to adapt in a hurry, because proven backups will come at a steep premium in 2013.
Rating: 6


Everyone knows that QB Shane Carden's first option in the passing game is No. 2, junior Justin Hardy, the inside "Y" receiver. And yet, he's going to make his catches anyway. Lots of catches. Hardy had more than double the reception total of any other Pirate in 2012, hauling in 88 passes for 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns to appear on the All-Conference USA First Team. A lot of schools missed on the former walk-on, whose only other offer to play college football came from Fayetteville State. These days, the 6-0, 185-pound overachiever is climbing deep into the school record books, using an efficient and effortless catching style to amplify modest overall measurables.

At the other inside position, "H", 5-10, 180-pound junior Danny Webster has the top job in a vice grip. He was third on last year's team with 34 receptions for 332 yards and five touchdowns despite only starting a couple of games. The former high school quarterback has sticky hands, and knows how to get open.

The Pirates need more help on the outside. Reese Wiggins is one of two seniors hoping to provide it. However, the 5-11, 193-pounder will need to be far more productive in 2013 than he was in 2012. A year ago, he started 10 games at "X", yet was only able to shake loose for 25 grabs for 208 yards and a touchdown.

On the other side, "Z", Lance Ray will be looking to step up his game in his second year out of Northwest Mississippi Junior College. He was quiet in his debut, catching four passes for 16 yards, but did return a kick 90 yards for a touchdown. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, the former Arkansas Razorback has the size, speed and balance to blossom into a major producer in the passing game.

ECU is going to be light on experience off the bench. Backup "Y" receiver Justin Jones is the exception. Built like a right tackle at 6-8 and 258 pounds, he can create all kinds of matchup problems for linebackers and defensive backs. The veteran of nine career starts finished last year with a personal-best 25 receptions for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

Watch Out For .... the program to finally make better use of Jones' unique physical gifts. Although he's never going to be a 50-catch, he does have the potential to rank among the team leaders in touchdown grabs. If QB Shane Carden isn't locking on to No. 84 once the Pirates get into the red zone, it'll be a squandered opportunity for the offense.
Strength: Veteran receivers. Been there, done that. Of the Pirates' top five receivers, three are seniors and two are juniors. Carden's favorite targets have now been in coordinator Lincoln Riley's system long enough to know exactly where they belong and what the expectations are as blockers and pass-catchers.
Weakness: Producers … after Hardy. There's Hardy in Greenville, and then a lot of Pirates who wind up blocking for Hardy. Last season's No. 2 receiver caught just 36 passes, a disparity that makes it easier for opposing defenses to load up resources to stop the go-to guy. ECU desperately needs a supporting cast that can make life a little easier for Hardy.
Outlook: Hardy is a given. But everyone else is not. The receivers need to become more of an ensemble and less of a one-hit wonder this year. It's imperative that someone, like Wiggins or Ray or Webster, blossoms into a 50-catch guy. If Hardy doesn't get more help, the rest of the offense is going to feel the lack of diversity.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Of the six Pirates to start games up front in 2012, four are back, giving the program a solid foundation on which to build. Still, the unit needs to block with more consistency this fall. The cornerstone for one final year will be hulking senior RG Will Simmons, a third-year starter and reigning Second Team All-Conference USA selection. At 6-5 and 342 pounds, he possesses the size and the strength to overpower opposing linemen, yet is also one of the most flexible of the Pirates linemen. Simmons will spend this season blowing open holes, while attempting to attract the attention of NFL scouts.

ECU's best tackle lines up on the right side as well, 6-5, 312-pound senior Adhem Elsawi. He's been a gem so far for the Pirates, a versatile blocker who began his career at tiny Campbell University in North Carolina. He's started all 20 games of his career in Greenville, five at guard and 15 at tackle. Elsawi was an unheralded cog in last year's passing attack, protecting the pocket with a strong upper body, solid footwork and loads of smarts. He'll assume an even greater leadership role this year.

The anchor on the left side will be G Jordan Davis. The 6-3, 297-pound senior has started 24 games over the last two games, including 20 straight. He has the versatility to play multiple positions, but is at his best in tight spaces, where he can control and divert opposing linemen from the play.

Next to Davis at left tackle will be 6-7, 304-pound sophomore Isaac Harris, the baby of the starting unit. He's been good enough to move Elsawi, the veteran, over to the right side. He got his feet wet with six starts a year ago. Just 250 pounds when he arrived, Harris has successfully padded his frame without losing his agility or footwork.

The team's center is two-time letterwinner Taylor Hudson, a powerful 6-5, 300-pounder. He started seven games in 2012 before suffering a back injury that curtailed his development. The junior excels in the weight, which he brings out to the field on Saturdays.

The returning letterwinners coming off the bench include 6-2, 296-pound C C.J. Struyk, 6-6, 317-pound RG Drew Gentry and 6-5, 297-pound RT Chaz Lowery. However, none of the trio brings starting experience into this season.

Watch Out For .... the Pirates to direct the majority of their running plays to the right side of the line. Elsawi and Simmons are arguably the team's best blockers, with the latter qualifying as a bona fide road grader. ECU will have one of Conference USA's best right sides, and it plans to leverage it in 2013.
Strength: The interior. The Pirates are strongest on the interior of the O-line, from Davis to Simmons going left to right. Vintavious Cooper wound up being a surprise 1,000-yard rusher in his debut out of junior college in large part because of the play of his between-the-tackles blockers.
Weakness: Yeah, East Carolina drops back plenty, but it still has to do a better job of keeping the pocket clean for QB Shane Carden. The team ranked 78th nationally in sacks allowed in 2012, a slight upgrade from its No. 92 ranking from 2011. Elsawi ought to be fine at right tackle, but Harris faces a lot of responsibility on the left side.
Outlook: As long as East Carolina isn't forced to rifle too deep into the bench, the O-line should be fine now that so many starters are back. Simmons aside, this isn't a star-studded group, but it is experienced, with a blue-collar bent to it. The unit should hold up just fine as the fortress for an offense hoping to rank among the league's best.
Rating: 5.5
- 2013 East Carolina Preview | 2013 East Carolina Offense
- 2013 East Carolina Defense | 2013 East Carolina Depth Chart