AAC Team Preview: East Carolina

Hatts previews SMU's AAC foe, East Carolina, after talking with Inside ECU Sports writer Brian Wudkwych.

After a hot start to last season, East Carolina had everyone talking about whether it could contend for a BCS bowl. However, after a 6-1 start, the Pirates lost 4 of their last 6 games. Coupled with losing 21 seniors, ECU will be sort of a wildcard this year after they lost their record setting duo of quarterback Shane Carden, now with the Chicago Bears, and wide receiver Justin Hardy, now with the Atlanta Falcons. So with some of these big losses, and a couple of others, lets take an early look at what to expect from East Carolina this season.


Offense

As previously mentioned, ECU will be replacing one of its best players in school history at quarterback in Shane Carden. Tasked with replacing Carden will be sophomore Kurk Benkert, a 6-3 sophomore from Florida. Benkert (above) has been learning under Carden for the past two years and should be able to have some success early on despite the tough start to the season. After losing Justin Hardy, the Pirates will also be digging into their deep wide receiving group especially Isaiah Jones who will be tasked with replacing his tremendous production. Jones was just named to the 2015 Biletnikoff Award Watch List earlier this week.

Another notable loss for ECU was its offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley who headed off to Oklahoma to join Bob Stoops. However, he will be replaced by long time wide receivers coach Dave Nichol. According Brian Wudkwych of Inside ECU Sports, Nichol made it clear he does not plan to change the offense much, so don’t expect this to have too big of an effect on the Pirate offense. One player to watch on this offense could be sophomore Trevon Brown who played a big role for East Carolina in the game action he saw his freshman year. Despite struggling with injuries late in the year, Brown had a big impact including 14 catches for 264 yards on the season.


Defense

Not only did ECU get hit hard on the offensive side of the ball, but also on the defensive side of the ball. The Pirates were hit especially hard at the linebacker position where they lost leading tackler Maurice Falls to graduation, as well as, Brandon Williams, who helped lead East Carolina to a top 25 finish in run defense. The Pirates will now look to linebacker Zeek Bigger (above) and defensive back Domonique Lennon to lead this defense. One sleeper on the Pirates roster who is currently slated to start for ECU, according to Wudkwych, is Joe Allely. The 6-1, 230-pound sophomore saw some playing time last season as on special teams and even at linebacker late in the year. This year, the walk-on will be asked to contribute more on the defensive side of the ball.

Bottom Line

East Carolina could be one of the bigger question marks in the AAC this upcoming season. With a lot of talent coming back, the Pirates still have a chance to compete for the conference title this year, but they may not start as well as this year with trips lined up to Florida and Navy early in the year before coming home to face Virginia Tech before heading back out to face SMU. Certainly, the offense is still going to be potent with the talent alone coming back at wide receiver. The big key for the Pirates will be how the defense can hold up with some of the players they lost. Overall, the Pirates appear to be a team in transition, but certainly still a team that can beat any team on any given week.


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