Fourth-Year Head Coach Ruffin McNeill
March 25, 2013
GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media Monday about the start of spring practice. The following are selected comments:
"It's an exciting day for us as a staff to get a chance to get on the field and around the players. This is my 29th college spring coming up and it's never not been an exciting time to get around to coaching. To see how they have progressed from last time out, back in December, to right now. For me, and our staff, our fans, and everyone involved, they're excited as well.
"Even though we're right in the middle of a great basketball surge by our team, I think we still need to encourage that group. Playing in March is truly an honor and they've done a great job. Combined with pulling for Coach Lebo and pulling for Coach Macy's group, it's a great time to get on the field, and we start that today. It seems just like yesterday we finished practicing. It's our fourth spring here and that seems to have flown by for me. I'm looking forward to it.
'We divide each year into phases - phase one, phase two, phase three, phase four. Phase One is Coach Connors and his off-season of strength and conditioning, speed, power, his part. We have a summary or a night where Coach C gives out most improved, different levels of elite, Super Pirate Awards, record-breaking lifts, runs or jumps. Phase One with Coach Connors went fantastic. Coach Connors, as we all know, is very strict, and as far as giving plays, you have to earn it with his group. He said this group was one of the best he's had in 20-plus years of doing what he does and he is absolutely the best at doing what he does. From our strength games, our speed games, with our group at each position, not just for skills, but the big guys, it was really an impressive night when we handed awards out last week. So, Phase One I thought was not just great, but fantastic to begin.
"One of the intangible things that Jeff added to this group, besides what they've done in the lifting, running and conditioning part, was that he mentioned that this team has one of the best team chemistries he's been around. I went back and I watched the '91 team. I watched another team that played Miami in Raleigh, just to get my mind back in the flow of what Jeff was talking about and those teams had fantastic team chemistry and you could tell by how they were successful. He said this team has great team chemistry, which was just awesome to hear Jeff say that.
"Phase Two is spring ball. That's when we get a chance to develop schemes. Our staff has been evaluating since signing day week. We dove into film that Monday of signing day - offensively with Lincoln (Riley) and his staff; Rick (Smith) started coaching defensively that Monday and Kirk (Doll) with special teams. Now it's our chance to evaluate what we've done, what we did well, what was effective, what needs to work, what we need to scrap, those kinds of things. But now we get a chance to get on the field and work on those schematically. But nothing outweighs the fundamental part of what spring ball brings. And that may just be from my training and how I was brought up. The fundamental aspect is never neglected around here, but in the spring you really have a chance to put the football part with the off-season and training part, and Coach Connors did a great job of blending those. But, it's our chance to start coaching them now and it's our chance to start developing those fundamentals and weapons and tools that they can use in the summer in Phase Three and especially when we get to Phase Four, getting ready for the season coming up this fall.
"We'll do a lot in our 15 days. We'll have a chance to expose our team to as many looks as we can offensively, defensively, and special teams. Not just going against East Carolina versus East Carolina, but some of our opponents that we'll play next year. We'll, at some point in the spring, continue to expose our team to different things they'll see next fall. I'm looking forward to seeing how we grasp those things. This really gives us a chance to get around them and development is always a key to developing a football team."
On Special Teams
"I feel very good about our specialists Charlie Coggins and C.J. Struyk handling the long snapping duties. At this time last year, we were trying to develop this position and those two guys came in and have done it in live action and we feel very confident in those guys, long and short snapping.
"On punting duties, Trent Tignor and Brendan Rowland will man those. Trent did a fantastic job for us last year as an all-conference selection and one of the top guys in our league. Warren Harvey I thought did a great job of taking over the kicking duties and that'll be his job. I'm anxious to see how much he's improved and so is he."
On the Offense
"There's going to be a lot of competition. We have a lot of guys returning that have played on all three sides of the ball. Offensively, some guys I'm anxious to see because they've had great off-seasons, I'll start outside because this guy has really been a guy that has caught Coach Connors' eye and my eye, when I see the results and the stats, and that is Lance Ray. Lance had a great off-season and I'm looking for him to come out at the Z position. He did a great job in the classroom and adjusting that way. DaQuan Barnes is a young man you haven't heard much of. DaQuan is one of the fastest guys on our team and he'll be at the same position along with Antonio Cannon and Brandon Bishop. Those guys will be battling at Z. John Worthy's, Jabril Solomon, Reese Wiggins at X. Justin Hardy and Justin Jones will give us two guys at the Y position that we'll use. You saw them last year, on the field at maybe the same time because both can play a lot of positions. They're both very smart football players so those guys will give us some guys there at Y.
"At the running back position, Chris Hairston will have his hands full with a lot of reps and have a chance to prove himself. Another young man that's a walk-on is Cory Hunter. I'm anxious to see how he performs.
"At the quarterback position, there's Shane Carden and Cody Keith, and we have Kurt (Benkert) in here now. Kurt is one of the four young people that joined us at mid-year. I'm anxious to see Shane's continued development. He's grown as a leader and just seeing things from past quarterbacks I've been around where you arrive on a Saturday and you see the whole offense throwing the ball around and doing things on their own. That's what Shane and Cody bring to it. Kurt's come in and is blending in well. It's been good for him.
"Right tackle will be where Adhem Elsawi starts with Chaz Lowery. I'm anxious to see Chaz' improvement and make sure he's pushing Adhem at right tackle. Chaz has great athleticism and it's time for Chaz to step up and start pushing for a lot of playing time. We played him sparingly last year, but Chaz has unique ability there. Adhem has been improving himself as well.
"Isaac Harris is a guy who I'm anxious to see his development and see him take over that left tackle position. He's worked extremely hard in the off-season. He's worked really hard since he got here and Ike is a guy who I've been impressed with, especially last year. He's come along - footwork, understanding the offense, understanding how to get the job done.
On the Defense
"I think it starts up front and we have some guys out, Damon Magazu, Jeremy Grove, Justin Dixon, who will not participate in spring. Jeremy may get some play towards the end in a special type situation. Terrell Stanley will not be out there right now, but we could have him back next week. But those are five really good football players that will be integrated into the defense of Rick (Smith) and will make some plays for us.
"I'm really anxious to see how Johnathon White has improved. Jeton Beavers is another young man who has been here and been growing each year. He's gotten bigger and stronger, he's maturing and he'll have a chance to participate and really have a chance to be a big part of our defense. He has range, he has speed, and just like Johnathon, can run.
"Another young fellow who came in is Randall Anderson, who has been an absolute warrior in the offseason as a young player. Randall is a good defensive end. He can run, he has range and you'll see Randall there integrated.
"The key to our defense will be inside. Terry Williams and Chrishon Rose, who like Lee (Pegues) can play both positions, but he'll be at nose. Frederick Presley is a really fine walk-on defensive lineman that we have here. I'm anxious to see Fred participate.
"The linebackers - we have four groups and integrating what Rick (Smith) wants is still a blend in. Those guys can be down or up and involved in a pass rush. Derrell (Johnson) leads us and he had a really good off-season and is prepared for spring. We moved Maurice Falls over to back Derrell up. We also have a young redshirt freshman, Drayvon Fairley, who will compete. So those guys can rush, but we can also drop guys that can bounce a pass rush too. We felt like Maurice, will be better there for Derrell. He's gotten bigger and stronger in the off-season.
"Secondary, we know we have to keep stressing that position. Adonis Armstrong, (Rocco) Scarfone and Deshaun Amos will be at the field corner. Those guys did a good job in the offseason and I'm looking for those guys to keep developing, and fight, earn and compete for positions there in our defense.
"Safeties, Desi Brown and Michael Dobson, who we've moved from running back to safety. Michael's had a great offseason. Domonique Lennon is a guy who has really come on for us. I think he can be a guy who affects the team positively on the field with plays, bringing strength, not just to our defense, but to special teams too. Domonique's had a great off-season."
On senior running back Vintavious Cooper
"He won't be back on the team this spring, and we'll look to integrate him back, maybe in the summer. So, he will not be participating this spring at practice. He has to (work out on his own). He has no involvement with the team right now. We meet with Vinatvious three times a week and he's doing a good job of doing things we ask him to do."
On returning 16-of-22 starters and the depth of the team
"We want to get to where if somebody is nicked or has to go down, we have a guy that can replace him and our productivity won't fall off that position. I think we're getting close to that. That's what spring is for, so we can see how much a young man has grown from the end of last practice at the bowl game to right now. That's why I mentioned a lot of guys that never had opportunities, like Chaz Lowery for example on the offensive line. He played sparingly, but has a chance talent-wise to really move up and give us quality depth. A guy like Lance Ray, didn't play much, confidence, whatever it might be. He now has confidence and we're looking to him to take off and give us some explosion. So, I'm anxious to see how much those guys have grown and it is getting to a point where we want to get to where we can reload, but more than just that, have competition at each position."
On the team's strength's going into the spring season
"I would say on defense it's the front seven. Offensively, I think our line has done a good job of developing and working. We're able to keep guys healthy and if somebody did get nicked, we're able to replace them. I think that group has a chance to be really, really good for us. Again, when I mentioned some Saturday morning things on their own, they were out there every Saturday on their own. Our receiver position with speed that has been developed and what they bring to the table gives us a chance to be explosive there. At quarterback, I feel really good about Shane (Carden) and Cody (Keith) and Kurt (Benkert). I'm going to have to see how Rick (Smith) gets his hands on the secondary and how that develops. I know he's got a tremendous plan to develop that group. The offensive line and the continued development of that group, I think those will be some areas that will help us win. So, I'm happy with those two areas, the front seven and the offensive line."
On having a starting quarterback in place, unlike last year
"Just from the meetings, talking that Monday of signing week, with Lincoln (Riley), Kirk (Doll), Brandon (Jones) and DK (Donnie Kirkpatrick) and Dave (Nichol) in that meeting room, they were able to jump on it right now. They started watching every play that we ran last year and evaluated what we needed to work on and what we needed to toss. Knowing who you have coming back at the quarterback position, the offensive line, all of those positions, we can move a lot faster. So, of course, with the change on defense, they will be a little bit ahead as far as schematics because they can move a little bit faster because of their cohesiveness. So it helps having a guy in place and a guy that earns it. Everybody knows we're going to play the guy that performs the best and Shane has done nothing in the off-season to deter from that and Cody has also worked hard. So you want that kind of position. It feels good to have a group of guys back that have been through it and have been around us now for two, three, some going onto their fourth season."
On sophomore running back Chris Hairston
"Chris has always been very good with the ball in his hands. I think his biggest thing will be being able to pick up pass protection, which in this offense, is needed. He's done a really good job. I think the mental toughness that it takes in that position because you have to do a lot of things, not just run the football. So he's got to be able to run it, catch it, and protect and I think that Chris understands that he has a great opportunity. I've always been impressed with Chris. He got injured his freshman year and had to have some surgery, but he's come back and really come on well. He was part of our special teams last year, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with Chris. I think you saw him last spring game, if I'm not mistaken, making some runs. So he's got that chance."
On the goals for the spring season
"We have a vision and we know what we want to accomplish, but getting our team, staff, everybody around involved within ear-shot range to understand the process - what it takes to get to that vision. What it takes to work, the mentality, the little things on and off the field. On the field, fundamental development is always key. One of the things I mentioned earlier is what is great about our strength and conditioning games is what Coach Connors said when we met as a staff is the team chemistry that he felt from this football team in the off-season. Developing fundamentally each group, but continuing the team chemistry that we have and getting them to embrace the process, the work, the little things it's going to take to accomplish what we want to."
On the addition of defensive coordinator Rick Smith
"One of the things Rick brings is that he's been around so many different places and he's been doing it for so long. He's come in and blended a lot of some things that he liked from what we did. From base packages to 3-4 concepts to blend it to what he wants, 4-3 concepts. Really, each scheme gives you both. A 3-4 gives you some 4-3 and 4-3 gives you some 3-4 schemes and he's been able to blend that. What Rick has brought is a different coverage thought process. So it's been a point where Rick's installed what he wants and they've done a great job. Now is the time to transfer that to the field and see how the players grasp it. I think we have players with pretty good football IQ on this team and they'll pick up pretty quick what we want and what Rick wants and what we want as a defense and what we all want as a staff. I think the kids are excited. They were excited when they met Rick and I think they'll be excited once he starts getting after them today, which I have no doubt he will."
On the preparation for the new opponents ECU will face in the fall
"We're already collecting film on them and I'm sure they've already collected film on us. It won't be an overdose of them, but just a sprinkling during a part of practice. It's not going to be determined on when we prepare for them, at least not at this point. There are things that Lincoln (Riley) installs offensively, things that Rick (Smith) installs and things that Kirk (Doll) does. I'll choose what to expose them to. Whether offensively, it's a coverage or a blitz that I've seen from a particular team. Or defensively, if it's a hurry-up offense. There are going to be some things that we'll need to be able to recognize pretty quickly just to change up the spring a little bit. We've always done it. I've always tried to expose them to different things that they might see that we may not see as much from our own team. Those are things I introduce to them to as part of my job."
On having the extra practice in preparation for the bowl game
"It's like gaining a spring practice, or many spring practices in between. Like Ryan Revia, you saw Chaz Lowery, Isaac Harris, some guys who are coming in to play right now, offensively. Lance Ray started coming on during that time. Johnathon White, Jeton Beavers are some names that came along during those times. Desi Brown, a guy you'll see at safety, is one of those who came on at that time. So it was very beneficial for us then to take from that and start with Coach Connors and add to it. That's why there's an excitement and anxiousness about today, just to see if we can continue and sustain that. I think they will. The mentality is there. I see they've got a hop in their step. They need to continue to keep improving and developing."