Stepping up and staying balanced

When Vintavious Cooper went down with a concussion during the first quarter against Middle Tennessee State, Chris Hairston and Breon Allen became the most recent players to step up. Now the key is keeping running and passing balanced.

One of the most consistent things about this season has been watching a new East Carolina player step up each week. Most recently, running back Chris Hairston came in when Vintavious Cooper went down with a concussion.

Cooper left in the first quarter after being on the receiving end of a massive hit from Middle Tennessee State's physical defense. In his place, Chris Hairston and Breon Allen combined for 122 yards.

"That's kind of been what this whole team has been about," said quarterback Shane Carden. "If one guy goes down, you step up and understand the importance of doing your job when you get in there. I think Chris [Hairston] and Breon [Allen] did a great job of that."

Other than sheer talent, a major reason players have readily stepped up and made an impact can be attributed to the coaching staff. Hairston and Allen prepared for Middle Tennessee State exactly like Cooper did.

"One of the things that we do, because we play fast and run a lot plays in practice, they get a lot of work," said running back coach Kirk Doll. "Mentally, in the meetings, they're taking notes. They're watching tape on their own. They're prepared just like they're going to be the guy that starts."

ECU has managed to keep the passing and rushing game balanced since its dominant performance against North Carolina. With Cooper listed as doubtful for Saturday's game against Tulane, the key now making sure the Pirates can maintain that offensive balance.

"I got to keep learning from Cooper," said Chris Hairston. "He's on the sideline. He'll was coaching me at Middle Tennessee, telling me what to do and things like that. I got to keep doing what I've been doing and keep doing what Cooper tells me."

The game plan doesn't change a whole lot, though. If anything, the game at Middle Tennessee State showed the Pirates need to stick to their game plan.

"When Cooper went out, we kept running the ball effectively," said Carden. "Chris had a great game. He almost had 100 yards rushing and he didn't play the whole game. So, I think just continue to not change anything. Continue to make our plays. Again, Chris did a great job of getting out late in the passing game and making a few catches."

With receivers Quataye Smyre and Danny Webster suspended indefinitely, it could be a little trickier to make sure the air and ground game stay balanced. Some players will be moved on the field and others will be asked to step up as they see more playing time.

"They're hungry," said head coach Ruffin McNeill. "When you're able to get kids in your program, like a DaQuan [Barnes], who's worked hard every day; Isaiah [Jones], who's come in here. Everybody knows about Isaiah and how he's worked—and Davon [Grayson], as young people. And Cedric [Thompson]'s been just waiting."

Watching for who steps up has been exciting for each game this season. With Hairston and Allen likely taking control of the rushing game and new receivers stepping in for Smyre and Webster, Saturday should be an interesting day in New Orleans.

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