McNeill, Pirates Officially Open Spring Drills

Ruffin McNeill

March 19, 2012

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - Third-year head coach Ruffin McNeilland the East Carolina Pirates officially opened the 2012 spring practice period with their initial workout Monday afternoon on Hight Field inside the Cliff Moore Practice Complex.

McNeill, who has led ECU to 11 victories and a bowl appearance in his two seasons at the helm of the Pirates' program, led his 91-man roster and 15 walk-on hopefuls through a two-hour session in unseasonably warm temperatures. The practice, the first of 15 scheduled workouts, will culminate with the playing of the Purple-Gold Spring Game April 14 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

"It was a great effort for a first day and I was happy with the way things progressed," McNeill said. "I liked the enthusiasm, intensity and tempo we were able to establish today, and that sometimes is difficult when you're not in pads.

"We had a good day of installation on our base packages and I thought the younger guys really stepped up on all three sides of the ball and that's certainly the kind of start we were looking for."

East Carolina returns seven starters on each of its offensive and defensive units, and welcomes back a total of 48 lettermen off a team which posted a 5-7 mark and stood third in Conference USA's East Division with a 4-4 record last fall. The number of returnees play a role in enabling the 2012 Pirates to possess their most experienced overall roster in the McNeill era at ECU, a tenure that has featured a combined 49 first-time starters - 24 in 2010 and 25 in 2011.

From a defensive standpoint, East Carolina will begin its second season in a 3-4 alignment that helped trim 102.5 yards off its total per-game average and moved the Pirates from 120th in 2010 to an upper-half finish in 2011 (56th). ECU brings back roughly 70 percent of its production in four major categories from last season - tackles (70.2), tackles for lost yardage (70.9), sacks (67.4) and turnover production (76.2 percent of combined interceptions and fumble recoveries).

On the other hand, with the departure of record-setting quarterback Dominique Davis and outside receiver Lance Lewis, the Pirates' spread attack returns only 45.7 percent of its scoring and less than 30 percent (28.8) of its total offense yardage it accumulated a year ago.

One of McNeill's biggest tasks this spring will trying to find a replacement for Davis as senior Brad Wornick, junior Rio Johnson, sophomore Shane Carden and redshirt freshman Cody Keithwill all compete for the job. Wornick (2010) and Johnson (2011) both served as Davis' top understudy and experienced limited action in respective seasons, while Carden and Keith have not lined up behind center during a collegiate game to date.

The quartet rotated equally throughout practice Monday, each spending time on scripted drills that included skeleton work, screen pass and deep route sessions, and an extended "team vs. scouts" period near the end of the workout.

NOTES: A total of five returnees will be sidelined during the duration of spring drills because of injuries and subsequent rehabilitation assignments - DE Jeton Beavers (left shoulder), ILB Jeremy Grove (left shoulder), OT Grant Harner (left ankle), DB Glen Hilliard (right knee) and IR Danny Webster (right knee) ... Four others - OLB Jake Geary (left ankle), RB Chris Hairston (right knee), DE John Lattimore (right leg) and DE Matt Milner (right hip) - will be limited to mostly non-contact work ... McNeill announced the addition of Richard Cotton(IR/OR, 6-0, 180, Soph., Charlotte, Northwest Cabarrus HS) to his walk-on roster Monday ... The Pirates will spend another day in shorts Wednesday before moving to shells for the first time Friday.

Next Workout: Wednesday, March 21 (3:45-5:50 p.m.)
Remaining Workouts: March 23, March 24, March 26, March 28, March 30, March 31 (scrimmage), April 2, April 4, April 6, April 7 (scrimmage), April 9, April 11 and April 14 (Purple-Gold Game, 2:30 p.m.)