Spring Game: Three Things To Watch For
When East Carolina’s annual Purple-Gold spring game gets underway Saturday inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, it will serve as fans’ first glimpse of the 2015-2016 Pirates. The scrimmage, akin to year’s past, will be an offense vs. affair and will be full contact (outside of quarterbacks and return situations, of course). The first-team offense will square off against the second-team defense, while the top defensive players will see action against the second-string offensive players, McNeill said at the end of spring practice. Both third-string units will face off against each other too. Here are three things to watch for when the spring game kicks off: WHO WILL STEP UP AT QUARTERBACK? Operation “Replace Shane Carden” has been in full effect this spring and for the first time in nearly three years, someone not wearing the No. 5 jersey will be taking snaps from center. All eyes will be on redshirt sophomore Kurt Benkert, who seems to be the early favorite to take over the reigns of the Pirate offense. Benkert, who was the primary backup to Carden a season ago, has taken the majority of the first-team reps this spring and the job appears to be his to lose. The 6-foot-3 Benkert isn’t a lock for the spot, however, as junior lefty Blake Kemp has also taken first-team snaps and competed for the starting position. Kemp offers no in-game experience outside of his time Mesa Community College in 2013. In total, the trio of quarterbacks has appeared in just six games for the Pirates collectively. WHAT FLAVOR WILL NICHOL ADD TO ECU’s OFFENSE? When offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley left to take on the same position at Oklahoma in January, it left many wondering who would take over the play calling duty of the high-powered ECU offense. It took McNeill just three days to find Riley’s successor and he opted to stay in-house with the promotion of outside receiver’s coach Dave Nichol. The 38-year old Nichol is tasked with taking over an offense that finished last season in the top five in terms of yards per game. To make things more interesting, he will be without the school’s all-time leading passer and receiver, and the leading rusher from last season. The pantry wasn’t left completely bare, however, as he inherits a deep running back core, an strong crop of receivers and an experienced — when healthy — offensive line. The question on Saturday will be how similar ECU’s pass-heavy offense under Nichol looks to Riley’ iteration of the Air Raid. The spring game should provide a good glimpse into what’s in store. With running backs Chris Hairston, Marquez Grayson, Chris Mangus and Anthony Scott all eyeing up the starting job, and Nichol claiming that he would prefer to have one of those players become the feature back, it will be interesting to see just how much weight is put on their shoulders, especially with an inexperienced group of quarterbacks. Last season, Hairston, Grayson and Scott collectively gained 1,085 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns rotating as Breon Allen’s backup. Returning a surplus of experienced backs may be too tempting for Nichol to stick to the air attack. SECONDARY SPOTS UP FOR GRABS On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary is taking shape after last year’s starting strong safety, Lamar Ivey, and boundary cornerback, Detric Allen, have graduated. In attempt to replace Ivey, juniors Terrell Richardson and Dashawn Benton, who moved over to safety from corner this spring, are the likely favorites to claim to the open spot. Richardson is listed as the starter and was a given a scholarship recently after spending his first two seasons of eligibility as a walk-on. Domonique Lennon, who played in 12 games a season ago, and Travon Simmons are currently battling it out at the other safety spot, according to defensive coordinator Rick Smith. Smith noted that because of his senior status, Lennon had the early edge but Simmons would see time in the “boss” package when Smith wants an extra defensive back on the field. However, even with tight battles in the back end of the secondary, Smith alluded to the boundary corner position battle as his favorite to watch. Upperclassmen Rocco Scarfone and DaShaun Amos are currently neck and neck in the battle. Both players saw action in all 13 games last season and Amos edged out Scarfone in tackles 18-11. With the first-team defense tasked with stopping the second team offense, the secondary will hope to have a big day, especially if Nichol hits the air often.
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