Coaches Corner: Kirk Doll

For an update on the often times overlooked "third side of the ball," special teams coordinator Kirk Doll provides Inside ECU Sports an update on the unit.

One year ago, East Carolina's special teams were a large concern following the losses of both their kicker and punter from the previous season. Meanwhile, the unit's coordinator, Kirk Doll, was entering just his first year in that capacity.

Instead of folding while they were put under the microscope, Doll's unit showed immediate improvement, particularly from specialists Trent Tignor and Warren Harvey.

As a junior, Tignor averaged 42.8 yards per punt, which ranked him among the top 40 punters nationally. While Harvey, a sophomore placekicker from nearby J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, made 35 of 40 field goal attempts, despite missing four tries in his first three games. He also drilled all 50 of his PAT attempts.

Both players are back for this upcoming season and earlier this month, were placed on national watch lists.

"These young men have great character and they're excellent workers. I'm happy for them and I expect them to improve on what they did last year," said Doll.

In the span of a year, special teams has changed from a projected liability to one of the strengths of the team. Not only in the specialists department, but with the amount of depth returning on defense, most of last year's coverage team will likely be back in the same position this season.

"There's always speculation and your anticipation is that we should be (better)," said Doll. "We have the type of young men who know how to handle success…so we expect them to achieve higher and to be competing with the absolute best."

As for the return game, there are a slew of candidates that could field punts or kicks this fall. All-conference inside receiver Justin Hardy is the favorite to return punts – being responsible for 20 of the team's 22 punt returns last season – but many have questioned whether premier offensive players should be reserved exclusively for offense.

"The way Coach Ruff has approached it to us is we're not afraid to play first-team players," said Doll. "We don't try to overload them. As an example, maybe being a first-team player on punts and a back-up on kickoffs. So they're not stressed."

The kickoff-return spot is far more fluid going into fall camp. With many players throwing their names into the conversation, it's difficult to single-out one player. But if front-runners were decided solely off popularity, Lance Ray would be the guy.

In last year's opener against Appalachian State, Ray burst onto the scene in his first game as a Pirate with a spectacular 90-yard kick return for a touchdown. From that point on, expectations were drastically heightened for Ray and understandably, he struggled to meet them.

"I think Lance has matured and I think when you come in and have so much thrown at you…there were things some things we had to do to make sure our team progressed properly. Lance has come back, he has worked hard, and he'll have opportunities," said Doll.

Doll mentioned inside receivers Quataye Smire and Danny Webster as other prime candidates for the kick-returning job, but said he wouldn't be surprised if more names were added to the list this fall.

In addition to working with the special teams, Doll also coaches the running backs. In 2012, Vintavious Cooper was ECU's first 1,000 yard rusher since Dominique Lindsay in 2009. Cooper, who missed the entire spring session due to a drug citation, returned to the team for summer workouts and should remain as the feature back this season.

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