April 5, 2012
In the second installment of a four-part series that offers an up-close and personal look at the quartet of Pirates competing for the starting quarterback position this spring, staff writer Sam Hickman visits with junior Rio Johnson. His exchange with senior Brad Wornick was posted Tuesday, while sophomore Shane Carden and redshirt freshman Cody Keith will be featured next week.
GREENVILLE, N. C. - After serving as third-string quarterback behind starter Dominique Davis and top reserve Brad Wornick during the 2010 campaign, Rio Johnson out-dueled Shane Carden during fall camp for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Davis a year later.
The slender, right-handed signal-caller was the only player amongst the quartet that took snaps behind center during last year's campaign. The Atlanta, Ga., native appeared in four games as he completed 20-of-29 attempts (69 percent) for 157 yards. He connected on a personal-best 13 passes on Oct. 8 at Houston. Additionally, he entered a Nov. 5 tilt against eventual Conference USA champion Southern Miss and threw for 47 yards (five-of-six) on a drive that culminated with a touchdown.
SH: You were recruited by the previous coaching staff and redshirted during the 2009 season. How difficult was the transition as you had to learn the spread attack, which was implemented upon the arrival of head coach Ruffin McNeill and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley?
RJ: "My freshman year, I didn't play and I was really just watching the offense from the sidelines and trying to pick up on all the little things. I definitely know this offense much better. Now, I get the chance to get deep into all the details of the offense because I sit down in the film rooms with Coach Riley and he teaches me everything I need to know. This is the start of my third year now with the system, so I'm much more comfortable."
SH: Did last year's preseason duel with Shane Carden for the No. 2 spot behind Davis prepare you in any way for the competitive atmosphere that surrounds the position this spring?
RJ: "I was happy to win that spot (last season) and enjoyed getting more reps. It benefits me seeing those live reps, but going into this offseason, Coach Riley made it clear to all four of us that there were no favorites and that everybody had an equal chance. I was the No. 2 guy last year, but that doesn't mean I have an advantage over any of the guys for the No. 1 spot this spring."
SH: Could you address some of the strengths in your game as well as areas you need to improve upon?
RJ: "Well, I think one of my strengths is being able to read defenses and recognize weaknesses in the defense. I'm getting better at knowing when to take advantage of those weaknesses. As far as weaknesses in my own game, sometimes it's knowing where and when to make certain throws. I have to learn where to miss, when to put air under the ball, when to throw it on a line - things like that. Those are throws I've been working on with Coach Riley."
SH: Can you talk about the benefits of playing behind a record-breaking quarterback like Dominique Davis for two years?
RJ: "I definitely grew up learning under Dominique and he helped me with leadership and maturity. I watched him and learned so much just being around him every day. There's no question he helped me develop as a quarterback, but more as a leader."
SH: What are your expectations and goals for the remainder of the spring period as we approach the 2012 campaign?
RJ: "The team goals always come first. We want to win championships. As for me personally, I want to win the starting job and I want to lead these guys. I want the team to have faith in me that I can lead them. I want this offense to click on all cylinders. If one guy messes up out of the 11, that could throw off the whole play. I want to be the guy that makes sure everyone is doing their job so we don't have those mistakes."
Extra Points with Rio Johnson
Favorite movie: The Sandlot
What's on the iPod: A wide variety actually - T.I. all the way to Jason Aldean.
Favorite class taken at ECU: Bowling
Favorite moment as member of the Pirate football team: Winning the Conference USA Championship my freshman year.
Most embarrassing moment at ECU: During my freshman year, I pulled a little stunt on Patrick Pinkney and he got me back at practice with a shaving cream towel to the face.
What you miss most about home: Family, home-cooked meals and being catered to by my mom.
Lincoln's (Riley) Labels: I might need more than a couple of words for Rio (laughs). Let's go with goofy and mischievous for now.