East Carolina, one of the most dangerous mid-sized programs of the 1990s, is creeping back to glory with Skip Holtz at the steering wheel. In just his third season at the school, he’s way ahead of schedule, bringing a new attitude and toughness to a program that had lost its way under former coach John Thompson. Although they were soundly beaten by South Florida, appearing in the Papajohns.com Bowl afforded the Pirates a rare appearance on national television, along with 15 extra practices to prepare underclassmen for this year. With rumors swirling that he’d be lured to a bigger school, Holtz coming back for another year was the biggest news of the off-season.
Head coach: Skip Holts
3rd year: 12-13
Off. 25, Def. 25, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 20
Best ECU Players
1. OT Josh Coffman, Sr.
2. DE Marcus Hands, Jr.
3. LB Quentin Cotton, Jr.
4. RB/KR Chris Johnson, Sr.
5. FS Van Eskridge, Soph.
6. WR Phillip Henry, Sr.
7. NT Mark Robinson, Sr.
8. LB Fred Wilson, Sr.
9. DE C.J. Wilson, Soph.
10. OG Matt Burlter, Sr.
the Pirates are to build on 2006, they’ll do so on the backs of both
lines, which return every starter plus just about every reserve. Holtz
has been working to build depth and competition in the trenches, a
luxury he’ll enjoy in 2007. All eyes this summer will be on the
competition to replace the James Pinkney to Aundrae Allison hook-up, the
offensive catalyst the last two years. The quarterback battle between
last year’s backup, Rob Kass, Brett Clay and Patrick Pinkney will be
vital to determining ECU’s immediate future.
After winning games against Virginia, Southern Miss and N.C. State last year, East Carolina is confident and ready to take the next step: winning a conference championship. If the offense doesn’t drain the defense with endless three-and-outs, the Pirates are in a position to be the class of a weak and winnable Eastern Division.
What to watch for on offense: Holtz likes an up-tempo offense that spreads the field, but he’s also flexible enough to tailor his attack to the personnel on his roster. In other words, the offensive line, led by senior right tackle Josh Coffman, better be prepared to open more holes for the backs than it did last fall. Kass was sharp when pressed into action in the bowl game, giving him an edge in the battle to replace Pinkney behind center.
What to watch for on defense: With every relevant player from the front seven back, East Carolina has to be better at pressuring the quarterback than last year. If it’s not, it could be a long season for a revamped secondary that’ll be breaking in three new starters. The defense may be short on stars, but it’s experienced, closes quickly to the ball and can create turnovers.
The team will be far better if …the young offensive line grows up. The Pirates were forced to start three freshmen last year, which hurt at the time, but should pay dividends in 2007. With few playmakers and without an experienced quarterback, it’s imperative that the line delivers if the offense is going to have any chance of producing points.
The Schedule: It starts out a bit rough with non-conference games against Virginia Tech and a refurbished North Carolina, but the big deal is the Conference USA opener against defending East champion Southern Miss. With road trips to West Virginia and Houston to end the first month, ECU just has to survive. The final seven games of the year are against teams that didn't go to a bowl game. Winning all the league home games is a must to have a realistic shot at a bowl.
Best Offensive Player:
Senior RB Chris Johnson. Will he actually be a running back again? After
being one of the league’s best all-around backs for two years, becoming
a great receiver while serving as a decent runner, last year he only
rushed for 314 yards and four touchdowns while turning into a special
kickoff returner. He’ll likely combine with Dominique Lindsay to carry
Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Quentin Cotton. Only 224 pounds but fast, he finished second on the team with 68 tackles and was decent at getting into the backfield. After he comes back from a shoulder injury, he’ll be the leader of a veteran linebacking corps that should be one of the team’s biggest strengths.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Rob Kass. He’ll have to hold off Patrick Pinkney and Brett Clay for the gig, but the 6-4, 250-pound sophomore was the top backup last season and should become the type of passer to build the offense around for the next few years. He’s not going to run much, but he’ll bomb away.
The season will be a success if ... the Pirates win the East. The schedule works out relatively well, getting Southern Miss at home and missing Houston, Tulsa and SMU from the West. A few key players must become stars in a hurry to get the offense rolling, but it might take a while. Basically, the team has to get through the first month without thinking the season is lost, and then hit its stride late.
Key game: Sept. 15 against Southern Miss. If ECU wants to go where it hopes to be, it has to beat the best. Southern Miss is the star of the East, and if the Pirates can come through with a win in the conference opener, it’ll be the lead dog in the division pack. A loss could possibly mean an 0-5 start.2006 Fun Stats:
- Third quarter scoring: Opponents 39; East Carolina 29
- Red zone touchdowns: Opponents 28 of 43 (65%); East Carolina 21 of 44 (48%)
- Sacks: Opponents 29 for 209 yards; East Carolina 18 for 100 yards