ECU Football Kicks-Off Spring Practice

Pirates head football coach Ruffin McNeill talked to Inside ECU Sports as his team began its spring workouts on Monday. Here's what to look out for

In the midst of East Carolina Basketball's CIT Tourney run and the Diamond Bucs throwing the first pitch of its Conference USA slate over the weekend, Pirate Football starting its spring practice may have caught some off-guard on Monday.

ECU is coming off of an 8-5 season (7-1 Conference USA) that left the Pirates with a sour taste, falling to Louisiana-Lafayette, 43-34, in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

In 2013, ECU will return 16 of its 22 starters, including starting quarterback Shane Carden, 1,000 yard rusher Vintavious Cooper, Biletnikoff Watch List wide receiver Justin Hardy, and practically its entire front-seven on defense.

Cooper was in the news recently when he was suspended indefinitely from team activities after an on-campus drug citation. ECU football coach Ruffin McNeill still expects Cooper to play a huge role for the team in the fall.

"He won't be back on the team this spring and we'll look to integrate him back in the summer," said McNeill. "He has no involvement with the team right now, and we meet with Vintavious three times a week, and he's done a good job of doing what we ask him to."

With Cooper's suspension and Reggie Bullock graduating, sophomore halfback Chris Hairston is expected to get the bulk of the carries throughout the spring.

"Chris understands that he has a great opportunity. I've always been impressed with Chris…I think you'll be pleasantly surprised," said McNeill.

ECU began its first of fifteen practices leading up to the annual spring game on April 20. The team's primary concern going into the new season is its secondary. The unit's poor performance in 2012 led to the firing of defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell and the hiring of his replacement Rick Smith.

Smith was the "x's and o's guy" of ECU's outstanding defenses under the Skip Holtz regime from 2005-2009, and has indicated that he will implement some 4-3 defensive looks this season.

After finishing outside the Top 100 in pass defense last season and losing their two starting cornerbacks—Jacobi Jenkins and Leonard Paulk—Smith is juggling some of the old with the new names in hope of better results.

Sophomore Josh Hawkins and junior Detric Allen are both listed in the depth chart as the top two players at one of the two cornerback positions. A former starter at running back, Michael Dobson was moved to safety and expects to compete at that position.

On the injury front, free-safety Damon Magazu will not participate in the spring session with a back injury, as will defensive-end Justin Dixon due to lingering right knee concern. Jeremy Grove will be given limited work with a left-shoulder injury.

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