ECU's Crowded Backfield Takes Shape

GREENVILLE, N.C. — The ECU backfield consists of six running backs at fall camp that are competing for playing time this season.

A year ago, Vintavious Cooper was the clear-cut starting running back and was given the bulk of the carries in fall camp after becoming the first Pirates running back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2009.

Meanwhile, soon-to-be back-up Breon Allen had just arrived from Snow College and was in the process of feverishly learning Lincoln Riley’s “Air Raid” offense.

Fast forwarding to this year’s camp, Allen is now the leader in the backfield, competing alongside junior Chris Hairston for the starting position and sharing carries with four other running backs.

“It’s definitely different,” said Allen after Tuesday’s practice at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex. “Last year, I didn’t know too much, I didn’t really know the offense and I was hurt. This year, I’ve got a much better understanding for the offense ... and being a leader is actually pretty fun. It’s cool having guys look up to me and I’m glad I can be a good role model for them.”

The challenge for Riley has been trying to evenly distribute practice reps between six running backs and give them all equal opportunity to leave an impression before ECU’s season opener on Aug 30.

“We’re lucky to have six guys that we feel like deserve those reps. I can’t ever remember having that many,” Riley said. “We’re also lucky that the way we practice, we get so many reps that I don’t feel like we’re short-changing anyone. Those guys are still tired at the end of practice, I promise you.”

Riley later said he has featured a different running back every day with the first-team offense and noted that each of the six backs provide a different element to the Pirates’ ground game.

Highly recruited running back, Marquez Grayson, struggled to pick up blocking schemes when he arrived as a freshman last year and was red-shirted because of it. Now the largest, most physical back on the roster — he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds — Grayson is expected to be in the rotation this fall.

Walk-on Cory Hunter appears to have fully recovered from a ligament tear right knee. Hunter gained the attention of coaches last spring because Cooper was serving a suspension for violating drug policy and Hairston was sidelined with an arm injury.

His impression carried over into fall camp and he was the back-up running back at the start of the season before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against Virginia Tech.

Fellow walk-on, Chris Love, emerged during this spring session, showcasing his acceleration in the Purple-Gold Game with a 71-yard touchdown. And although it is a long shot that he will be in the Pirates’ rotation this season, don’t be surprised if Riley finds ways to get him the ball in other capacities with his speed.

Then there is true freshman Anthony Scott, who was ECU’s top target of the 2014 recruiting class. Scott is coming off a season where he compiled more than 2,200 all-purpose yards at Green Run (Va.) High School and Riley described him as a “home run hitter” that he has yet to have in his first four years in Greenville.

Added Allen, “He’s going to be a great one.”

Riley hinted that the list of competitors at running back will likely be trimmed sooner rather than later, but despite having several moving parts and few cemented starters at key positions, coaches and players seem pleased with the direction the offense is moving in and how preparation has gone.

“It’s no different,” said quarterback Shane Carden. “There’s no hesitation, there’s no different preparation. We expect guys to come in and be ready to go when it’s there time to be called ... and so far I don’t see anybody backing away from that.”

ECU will have its second two-a-day practice of fall camp Wednesday at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex.

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