A Rosy Prognosis?

Every year before the season starts I try to take a realistic look at how our season should progress. In other words, it is time for the 2002 Football Preview. A 6-6 season in 2001 left a lot of Pirates wondering what went wrong.

Rest assured, the coaching staff is feeling the same way. A load of talent returned last year with the bulk of it on offense. The offense was one of the best in College Football. Nevertheless, we were left in amazement.

The 2002 team reminds me of the 1994 and 1998 squads. This team has a lot of talent but they are inexperienced. The difference is team speed. Logan will arguably field one of his fastest teams ever. Top to bottom it is stacked.

First up is the quarterback position. The playbook will be cut down for Troth and Robinson but look for a little more freedom as the two young studs appear to have more accurate arms for the intermediate pass and great field vision. The option is still in the playbook, but I suspect it is only a diversion rather than a must go to play. Troth and Robinson will split time, but if Troth lives up to his Blue Chip reputation, he will see the majority of the snaps.

Next is the backfield. Wow, it was exciting to watch Leonard Henry run last year. It was just exciting to see Townes and Brown leave defenses in the dust and knowing that our future was set. Well, it is time for Brown and Townes to carry the load and become veterans. As the primary backup, Brown averaged 5.7 yards per carry as he touched the ball 55 times for a total of 334 yards. Townes was closely behind averaging 4.8 yards, carrying the ball 26 times for 126 total yards. Both scored one rushing touch down each. Brown did a great job with the screen passes as he hauled in 16 passes for 252 yards, 15.8 yards per catch and 2 touchdowns. These 2 studs are key to our success on offense, because there is not much experience on the bench. I guess Gilliam could play both sides again.

Blocking for the Pirate backfield will be a line that led the way for over 2000 yards. Lombardi Candidate Brian Rimpf returns as well as a lot of experience. Young talented and strong sophomores are now juniors and have a lot of younger big-uglies behind them ready to take their jobs. The offensive line is very deep. Then you add 6 true freshmen that are huge, strong and talented. The Pirates are stacked here for years to come. There is more than one All Conference performer in this group.

The receiver position is packed full of speed and talent but if they don't produce we could see some true freshmen break into the lineup. Three very talented freshmen could be called upon. Recruits Iverick Harris and Kevin Roach are big and strong at 6'3" 200lbs and 6'5" 200lbs respectively. Harris is rated the 28th best prospect in North Carolina by Super Prep magazine and one of the top 20 wide receivers in the Atlantic region. Roach was a Shrine Bowl participant and is a possession guy. He has very good hands and is deceptively fast. Along with this duo is an under rated receiver from Tennessee. Bryson Bowling is a talented 6'3" 170 lbs receiver that fell under a lot of schools radar. Bowling made the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Class 5A All-State First Team. Before anyone west of I-95 starts to chime in, he is not a Prop 48 or a partial qualifier. He is a full qualifier with a 3.2 GPA. The talent is there for this year as well as the future. The invention of the Flex Tight End was introduced in 2001 and worked for its purpose. ECU mainly zone blocks, so a tight end is never handling a defensive end alone. Thus Logan and staff inserted the big receiver Arnie Powell into the tight end slot. This allowed more speed at that position. It help spread the field a little more and also allowed us to get another talented receiver on the field. Arnie took his new role and excelled. Oddly he seemed to be comfortable going over the middle. This year look for Tutu Moye to take over this role. If you are not familiar with this kid, he is probably the best athlete to ever come out of Greenville Rose High School. He is very mature due to the fact that he was drafted out of high school to play baseball. After a few years of the amateur circuit he decided that college would be his next step. So look for this kid to be a real leader. Rumor has it that Moye could be used at linebacker too. This kid can play any position on the field.

Let's move over to the other side of the ball. The defense is rumored to have some schematic changes. Some players have switched positions thus leading me to believe the primary alignment may be a 3-3-5 even though our official alignment is a 3-4. Yelverton is now a safety. At 6'0' 210 lbs and pound for pound on of the strongest Pirate ever he will be one hard-hitting safety. He has the speed also. Upfront the D-Line has some experience with James, Blair, Duckett, Helms and Pou. Add in Fouchee, Zubeck and red-shirt freshmen Myrick, Whimper and Neisz and the depth is there. The D-line improved against the run as the season went on last year, but really never got a pass rush going. Look for Pou and Duckett to dominate up the middle this year. On the outside Blair, James and Whimper will have to bring the heat. Don't worry about running past the QB; just force the QB into Duckett and Company.

How do you replace All American Pernell Griffin and "Saturday Night" Greg LeFever? You don't, but expectations are high for the young group of Linebackers at ECU. Gilliam, Williamson, Leach and Nealy are back. Insert a group of young studs that could be the best Linebacker class at ECU ever and the middle of the defense is covered. Get to know these names, Butler, Chisolm, Koonce, Moore, Veal and Emodi. Memorize their numbers and put it with a face. There is a lot of speed and talent among this group. Only problem is getting them some experience.

The secondary returns most of its cast. This group took a lot of heat in the off-season. There was not a lot of upgrade to this group except some position changes. Everyone is healthy except freshman Travis Cox. This bunch is fired up and they are ready to prove that they can do the job. A JUCO addition will help and Donald Whitehead was brought over from the offense.

Logan has placed a price tag on having good special teams. He makes no bones about it; ECU will always use scholarships to lure in kickers, snappers and holders. It is one third of the game and games can be changed in hurry by poor special teams play. Kevin Miller is back after a great junior season where he finished as the number 26 kicker in stats. Miller was 14-17 on field goals and 38-40 on extra points. He will surely be on the Lou Groza watch list again this year. Jared Preston also returns for his senior season after being ranked 12th in the nation in punting with a 44.07 yard average. Preston also could be a post-season award candidate for the Ray Guy award. The kick return role has yet to be etched in stone but Townes and Brown did a great job last year. Even splitting time, Townes was still ranked 26th in the nation. Copper will probably handle punt returns or maybe the speedy Donald Whitehead could see time here. Don't be surprised if Alston is inserted also.

In a nutshell, the 2002 season looks to be promising. The cupboard is not bare just a little inexperienced. If the young guys can fill the holes and gel it could be exciting. Rumor has it that the coaches are fired up and have burned the midnight oil in order to ensure that a 2001 repeat is not in the stars for ECU. The keys to success are defensive pressure, better secondary coverage, consistent play from QB and the receivers need to catch balls when they hit them in the hands. My middle school coach was tough but fair. He told us that if that ball touches your fingers you better catch it.

Conference Predictions and Outlook

1. ECU-Road schedule is favorable, low expectations, young but talented 10-2 (7-1)
2. Louisville-hard to 3-peat, holes in backfield, offensive line and receiver 9-3 (6-2)
3. USM-Easy road schedule, but have to replace a lot of skill positions 7-5 (5-3)
4. Cincy-tough road schedule, but a veteran squad 7-5 (5-3)
5. TCU- Tough road schedule, defense is good, offense?? 7-4 (4-4)
6. Memphis-tough road schedule, Offense came around in 2001 7-5 (4-4)
7. Houston-Still rebuilding but could be surprise, talented 6-6 (3-5)
8. UAB-favorable road schedule, defense has to reload, no offense 5-7 (3-5)
9. Tulane- could be a surprise if defense steps up 5-7 (2-6)
10. Army-it is still Army, just can't get the athletes 4-8 (2-6)

ECU Prediction

W ECU 27 Duke 13
W ECU 24 Wake 17
W ECU 30 Tulane 23
L WVU 24 ECU 23
W ECU 30 Army 20
W ECU 33 USF 14
W ECU 21 Louisville 19
W ECU 27 Cincinnati 25
W ECU 34 Houston 10
W ECU 20 UAB 12
W ECU 23 TCU 17
L Southern Miss 14 ECU 13

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