Position Preview: Running Backs
Having a surplus of talented, capable players is never a bad problem to have. For head coach Ruffin McNeill, that’s exactly what he has at the running back position. Anthony Scott, Chris Hairston, Marquez Grayson and Cory Hunter are all viable candidates to get playing time this season and the experience in that group runs deep. Breon Allen, now graduated, saw a bulk of the season as the feature back a year ago and new offensive coordinator Dave Nichol expressed a desire to find a three-down back in early spring. However, Nichol noted that at the end of spring no back grabbed the starting job. Scott, a true sophomore, fits the mold of the prototypical scat back type of player that East Carolina has utilized in the past. His 5-foot-9, 187-pound frame adds size where Allen and Vintavious Cooper lacked it. For Scott, his speed and agility puts him right on track with the previous two feature backs and his pass-catching ability out of the backfield serves as a benefit in ECU’s screen game. Scott surprised people last year with his early playing time but racked up 55 caries and 268 rushing yards while fighting for the reserve running back role with Marquez and Hairston. He burst onto the scene with his 61-yard performance in the first week of the season against N.C. Central. Opting to forgo a redshirt, McNeill and then-offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley showed immense trust in the freshman but he never realized his full potential thanks to the deep backfield. Hairston and Hunter, both seniors, have similar paths. Both players have seen little action in their years with the Pirates but have played their roles nonetheless. Hunter, the former walk-on, has seen playing time mostly on special teams but had his 2013 season derailed by a knee injury that took 10 months to rehab. His inexperience on the playing field, evident by his 45 career rushing yards, puts him lower in the pecking order but his years with the program makes him more than capable. Hairston has perhaps the best shot at locking down the starting back position. Like Hunter, the senior running back has had his career slowed by injuries in 2011 and 2013 but a full slate of health could give him the edge in the position battle. Though he has seen playing time every season he’s been eligible, Hairston announced himself last season against Temple when Allen struggled in the cold weather and fumbled three times. His 21 carries for 153 yards against the Owls proved his capability in being an every-down back. He rode the momentum from the breakout Temple game and finished the season second on the team with 528 rushing yards. The potential wildcard in the group has been, and remains to be Grayson. The redshirt sophomore has the physical tools, evident by his 6-foot-1, 189-pound frame and has shown flashes of brilliance during his limited appearances last season. His suspension in the Birmingham Bowl could hurt his chances at locking down a starting position considering the Pirates desperately needed him in that game when Allen was injured during practice leading up to the contest. He appeared in 12 games last year and saw red zone action, resulting in five rushing touchdowns. However, Grayson never really gained footing in the rushing game and got just 47 attempts last season. Grayson’s 6.1 yards per carry serve as a reminder that he can be a threat. The stable of running backs could potentially be a security blanket for the inexperienced crop of quarterbacks. Every back will have a role to play but according to Nichol the feature back spot is up for grabs.
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