Keeping Pressure off Receivers

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Since No. 19 East Carolina's offense leans so heavily on the passing game, the Pirates are working on ways to keep pressure off its receiving corps.

With East Carolina’s offense being so heavily oriented towards the passing game, sometimes adaptations need to be made to make the system more efficient. One thing the No. 19 Pirates have been making can be seen among the tight ends.

Starting tight end Bryce Williams didn’t get his first catch of the season until the first quarter versus Virginia Tech in Week 3. It was an unconventional one, too, when a deflected pass by quarterback Shane Carden ended up in Williams’ hands. He picked up 22 yards on the catch and pulled in a four-yard touchdown pass shortly after.

Of course, Williams was making his impact prior to that. The other part of his job description is blocking, which he’s often called up for. Williams’ blocking has been important when ECU tries to establish its run game.

“In the run game, when we’re in the three-point stance or in the backfield, we’re blocking almost like the line,” said the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Williams. “It’s not really noticeable to the fans or anything, but it’s important to the team because if you’re not blocking there’s going to be no running.”

At the same time, though, getting tight ends more involved in the passing game will put another weapon on the opposition’s radar. By doing so, pressure could be taken off of standout receivers like Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones—both of whom attract plenty of attention from the defense.

“It helps. When you get a tight end in there, you put (the defense) in a tough position,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “They’re either going to honor it with some big people and load up against the run and give you some matchups, or they’re going to stay small. Theoretically, you’ll get a pretty good box to run it into.”

Riley continued, “We’ve got two tight ends that are athletic and can run and catch the ball. Like you saw with Steve (Baggett) and Bryce, they can run with the ball a little bit. We’ve got some skill there and we’re just trying to find a way to use all these weapons.”

Williams showcased that skill this past Saturday versus Southern Methodist. In the second quarter, Carden hit Williams with a screen pass and he was able to shake two defenders to pick up 13 yards.

Baggett, a true freshman, also demonstrated how dangerous a tight end can be as a receiver in ECU’s offense. In the first quarter versus SMU, he ran down the middle and found an opening in the Mustangs’ zone coverage for a 25-yard reception.

“The problem for the defense is that there’s not one receiver that does all the work,” said Baggett. “Hardy is great, but every single receiver contributes to this offense. That’s what makes us such a good offense.”

Having Williams and Baggett involved in the passing game will help keep the pressure off the receivers, but the talent amongst the entire receiver corps also helps keep the defense from zoning in on one particular player.

Jones noticed that on Saturday. After Hardy went on a 120-yard, two-touchdown tear in the first half, things slowed down when the defense keyed in on him. That allowed Jones to take over and haul in another four catches for 78 yards in the second half.

“Justin opened it up for me,” said Jones. “Justin drawing double teams and things like that, it gives opportunity for other receivers to get open. I just the best advantage of the opportunity I had…when you can open it up and you have more weapons to go to, it just makes your offense completely better.”

ECU’s receivers seem to be doing a good job of keeping pressure off of each other. After all, with Hardy, Jones and Trevon Brown proving to be dangerous, it’s hard to focus on just one. The way tight ends have been gradually getting involved can only add to that.

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