ECU backs look to carry larger load

With three 1,000 yard rushers on their roster for this upcoming season, in addition to some other capable backs, the ECU backfield could be the team's strength.

Now that senior running back Vintavious Cooper is back with the East Carolina football team, following his suspension due to a drug citation, the Pirate backfield is shaping up to be one of the team's strengths this upcoming season.

Given the inflated numbers put up in the passing game, it can be easy to gloss over Cooper's rushing totals in 2012. After spending a year as an option quarterback at Southwest Mississippi Community College, it took some time for Cooper to acclimate to Lincoln Riley's Air Raid offense. But once comfortable in his role as a halfback, Cooper excelled and became ECU's first 1,000 yard rusher – with 1,049 yards – since Dominique Lindsay in 2009.

Though, Cooper won't be the only back on ECU's current roster to reach the milestone. In fact, the two top rushers in the junior college ranks, Breon Allen and Terrell Lane, are expected to be added to the rotation. Both of whom bring different elements to the running game with their contrasting rushing styles.

Allen, a transfer from Snow College (Utah), committed to Pittsburgh in high school, but didn't meet NCAA's qualifying standards and was forced to take a different route. This past season, Allen led JUCO with 1,632 yard rushing, but also showcased his versatility catching the ball out of the backfield.

Falling short of Allen by just three yards was Lane. But unlike Allen, who accumulated those yards with his explosive speed, Lane did so as a bruiser. The stocky 5-foot-11, 215 pounder rushed for 1,629 yards and 15 touchdowns at Hutchinson Community College (Kan.) in 2012.

Not to be forgotten in the equation is sophomore Chris Hairston. Hairston, who suffered a right knee injury as a member of the scout team in 2011, was expected to emerge as ECU's No. 2 option while Cooper was serving his suspension in the spring, but was riddled with injury again – suffering a shoulder injury in the early stages of camp.

That opened the door for fellow sophomore Cory Hunter, who received the bulk of the carries during the spring session. It was enough of an opportunity for Hunter to remain in the conversation going into fall camp.

Even though Cooper is expected to be the featured runner, Riley attributed his success to other backs that were able to spell him.

"What really helped (Cooper) was that we were able to keep him fresh because we had other guys that had other strengths. That's something we're going to strive to continue to have."

The trio of new faces and Chris Hairston will be relied on to replace the production of Michael Dobson, who switched positions to safety, and the graduated Reggie Bullock.

In his first three years as ECU's offensive coordinator, Riley has been criticized for passing the ball too frequently. Now with a slew of capable backs in his arsenal, the door is open for the Pirates to feature a far more balanced offense.

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