Three Things to watch for: Purple-Gold Game

ECU will host its annual Purple-Gold game Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Josh Graham provides three things to watch for.

The East Carolina football team will close its spring session when they host their annual Purple-Gold Game inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday at 2:30 p.m. There have been many storylines to follow throughout the spring, but here is a list of three that have stood out the most and deserve to be closely watched.

1. Quarterbacks not named Shane Carden

During last year's spring game, then back-up Shane Carden was out with a hand injury and our eyes were fixated upon Rio Johnson, who was the front-runner for the starting quarterback job. What a difference one year makes.

This time around, Carden is undoubtedly the guy for ECU, but how much will backups Cody Keith and Kurt Benkert play?

"Shane (Carden) is one of our core guys and leaders and Cody (Keith) has really come on this spring. We're really proud how Cody's produced, and the young fellow, Kurt (Benkert) has done a really good job throwing the ball around," said head coach Ruffin McNeill.

"We'll make sure we divide it up like we've done in the previous scrimmages," which would pair the first-team offense against the first team defense, the second-unit offense against the second-unit defense, and so on. McNeill hinted that he would mix up the groups during the scrimmage as well.

Keith is a rising-junior and knows his role as Carden's backup, but also a leader for early-enrollee Benkert.

"I was in his position a couple years ago and that was when (Atlanta Falcons quarterback) Dominique (Davis) was here," said Keith. "(Benkert's) come to me a couple times, and he's a heck of a player and a really good guy. I'm just trying to help him the best I can."

2. The No. 2 wide-receiver

Similar to Carden, Justin Hardy has solidified himself as one of the leaders on the team and one of the nation's best inside-receivers. Senior Reese Wiggins was expected to be that guy last season but was unable to produce on a consistent basis. With a large group of wide-outs vying for playing time, this might be the most fun position-battle to watch for Saturday.

Wide receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick said that he gives the edge to the more experienced players, specifically mentioning 6-foot-8 senior Justin Jones and rising-junior Danny Webster, but the scrimmage provides an opportunity for the competing receivers to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff.

"I want to look and see who can handle a little bit more of a game-like atmosphere," said Kirkpatrick. "Some guys respond to that and they play better when it's more game-like. Some guys get a little bit nervous and they start going the wrong way."

Senior wide-out Lance Ray has been a hot topic surrounding the team since he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in last year's opener against Appalachian State, but since then has practically disappeared.

"I think Lance is excited about having a chance to now know what we're doing, and we're excited about what he brings to the table because he's so big, he's so physical and he's so fast," said Kirkpatrick of the 2012 junior college transfer, "He seems a lot more relaxed right now and much more confident with the offense."

3. The secondary

Of course, all eyes will be watching the secondary on Saturday. It will be the first time we see them in action since Rick Smith took over as the team's defensive-coordinator, replacing Brian Mitchell.

Under Mitchell, the Pirates were the No. 105 ranked passing defense in 2012, but defensive-backs are Smith's specialty and he is known to keep his players accountable.

"Coach Mitchell didn't really get on you unless he was extremely mad," said senior Adonis Armstrong, who received a lot of playing time at corner in 2012, "Coach Smith is really intense, and gets after you and I love it. He brings the best out of me."

Armstrong is currently listed as the team's No. 1 field cornerback on the depth chart, but Smith has made it public that the race is wide open for secondary positions. In last Saturday's spring scrimmage, freshman corner Deshaun Amos recorded an interception, while sophomore Dominique Lennon tied a team-best six tackles.

Senior safety Damon Magazu has not participated in spring activities while rehabbing a back concern and will not play in the Purple-Gold game.

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