Pirates Complete First Two-A-Day

UABSPORTS.COM Running Backs Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Kirk Doll
Running Backs Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Kirk Doll

Aug. 7, 2013

Running Back Highlights

GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina returned to Hight Field Wednesday, completing the first of three scheduled two-a-day's inside the Cliff Moore Practice Complex. Under the direction of head coach Ruffin McNeill, the Pirates spent just over two hours wearing full pads during the morning workout before returning to shells for another two-hour session in the afternoon.

"We had another solid practice today," McNeill said. "I like the way our team approached the first two-a-day and I thought we got some quality work in. We use days like today to get some full fundamental contact done in the morning and the second half, or afternoon practice, is used to expose our guys to different opponent formations on all three sides of the ball. It's a grind out there with two practices in a day, but we're not the only team going through this. We have to make sure every snap counts and we are getting better with every play."

During the morning, the Pirates worked on the quick game, routes on air, team screens and one-on-ones before concluding practice with 30 minutes of extended team-on-team work. During the team session, McNeill and his staff watched as the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 offenses and defenses went head-to-head.

The afternoon session opened with wide receivers focusing on timing routs and the linebackers working on run coverage. The quarterbacks then went through a series of scramble drills with the receivers before another 10 minutes of screen work. During the skeleton phase of the session, the offensive and defensive lines worked on pass rush, which led to the final 25 minutes of team vs. scouts.

Camp Notes:
The Pirates return to a single-workout schedule Thursday and Friday, practicing from 8:45 a.m.-11:30 a.m. both days, in preparation for the program's first intra-squad scrimmage Saturday morning ... ECU has two more two-a-day's scheduled for Monday, Aug. 12 and Thursday, Aug. 16 ... Junior RB Breon Allen returned to action after missing the last three practices with a hamstring injury ... Freshman OL Brandon Smith (concussion) and senior DE Lee Pegues (concussion) are out indefinitely.

Thursday's Practice Time: 8:45 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Season Opener: Aug. 31 vs. Old Dominion in Greenville (7 p.m.)

Positional Snapshots
Today's "Q&A" format will highlight the Pirates' running backs:

Running Backs Coach Kirk Doll
The general perception of the spread, no-huddle scheme is usually a "pass-first, run-second" one, so how does an effective rushing game benefit or enhance production of this offense? "Well the defense has to cover both the run and the pass, so our offense is predicated on how they try to defend us. A lot of times you will see us throw the ball when it might be third-and-one, so a lot of that has to do with how the opponent is lining up. The more defenders they put out in coverage, the more we will run the ball. Last year we developed a very good game out of the one-back along with two backs and were productive in terms of the rushing game. I think it helps your offensive linemen as well because you don't have guys teeing off with a pass rush every snap."

Speaking of schemes, you have seen many during your long and successful career. Why do you think it has evolved in the manner it has over the years (option, pro-set, spread, etc...)? "I think teams are spreading out the defense to create better match-ups. They are saying our skill people are going to defeat your skill people and they are isolating certain positions. What that does is develop the quick passing game and now you have different options at your disposal. If you look back 50 years ago they had the single-wing, which was basically a tight spread formation with the misdirection that was involved. The passing game hadn't been used much, so they spread the wide receivers and they still got that type of misdirection read with the quarterback. So now you have an extra ball carrier and it makes it difficult to be defensive coach."

How do you sell this offense to a running back during the recruiting process when it has the so-called label it does? "I think you just look at the productivity last year with our running backs. Not only did we have a 1,000-yard rusher but we also had about 400 touches. And when I say `touches' I am also referring to the passing game as well. I think you have to be a well-developed back to excel in this style of offense. You have to be able to run, pass catch and pass block - be a well rounded player."

Your unit returns a 1,000-yard rusher in Vintavious Cooper and perhaps the most depth the Pirates have had in recent years. What does that quantity of quality allow you do this season that maybe you weren't in a position to do a year ago? "We do have a couple of young players that are getting into the rhythm and understanding what we are trying to do. I think competition always brings out the best in each person. The guys know if they get one rep in the backfield it has to be a quality rep in game speed and productive if they want another one. So if you handle it that way, it brings the talent level up that much higher."

Your fullbacks are often referred to by many as solely blocking backs - is that an accurate or fair label? What are the responsibilities (and value) for a player like Zico Pasut who has the versatility to contribute in different ways? "In our offense the fullback is a lot more than just a blocking back. In the case of Zico, he is a multi-talented guy that will line up as a fullback and at the tight end position depending on what formation we are running. He is also in on our one-back stuff a lot of times in passing situations helping to protect Shane (Carden), and has the ability to carry the ball on a draw as well. He is a very versatile and skilled athlete that can help us in many ways."

What are some of things you're addressing during camp? "We are always working on ball security and we devote a full period to drills on it each day. Last year we had a good number of runs and now we are working on hitting the home run, so making sure we try to press the defender and make him miss."

Who are some younger players that have caught your eye, either in the spring or during the first few days of preseason workouts? Breon Allen, who just got back to the field today after a hamstring issue, is a transfer that is quick and has good acceleration in the open field. Freshman Marquez Grayson is another guy we are really excited about. He is very focused in terms of learning and is ahead of the scale right now, but he has to keep on working. I think he has a chance to be a really good running back and be that home run guy."

Senior running back Vintavious Cooper
What are some of the team goals for the 2013 season? "As a team, our goal is to be more productive than any other team in the nation, produce a lot of points and execute every week. We want to lead the nation in fewest turnovers and continue our success of being one of the least penalized teams in the country."

What was the biggest on-the-field adjustment you had to make last year (from junior college to ECU)? "I would say being more physical. Making the transition from quarterback to running back was difficult at first, especially when you have to take on linebackers and 250-pound defensive linemen every week. Learning the fundamentals of blocking, becoming a better pass protector and being physical is a big part of that job. It's all about toughness in the backfield, whether you're blocking or running with the ball."

What would you list as your most memorable Pirate moment to date? "I would have to say the UTEP game. It was the first time I really got a chance to get on the field. After Reggie (Bullock) came out of the game it was like full steam ahead. I was thinking let's make this happen now. I had a pretty good game scoring a touchdown and I think I showed everyone that I could play at this level. It was also the first time I heard the `Coop' chant. I have never heard that before playing football and when 50,000-plus fans get behind you like that, you get chills running down your spine. The Pirate Nation has been great for the team and myself, so I really want to hear a lot more of that this season."

Is there a back in the NFL that you try to model your game after? If so, who? "I don't have anyone that I model my game after, but I do like watching LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles. He is a shifty back with tremendous hands, great in the open field and definitely fast, which are things I have been working on the last couple of years. Priest Holmes (former Kansas City Chief) is another back I liked to watch growing up. He was patient in the backfield waiting for his linemen to open lanes and then just would use his speed to hit the hole. I loved watching video of him run the ball."

Senior fullback Zico Pasut
What are some of the team goals for the 2013 season? "Obviously we want to win championships here at East Carolina, so that's the top goal each season. This year we are trying to find a more balanced offense, so that's been the focus for us early on in camp."

You play a position or positions that put you in many different roles - what is your favorite and why? "I love coming out of the backfield in the fullback position. I love getting some momentum built up in your blocks and making running lanes for the running backs. Also getting that extra couple of steps before you hit the line and then seeing the running back slide right off your backside and take one down the field, it's a great feeling."

What would you list as your most memorable ECU Pirate moment to date? "I would have to say the UCF game in 2011 because I played running back, which wasn't a position that I sought out. It was a crazy game that came down to the wire and we got the win. Another would be the 2009 C-USA Championship Game against Houston in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Even though I was redshirting that season, to be on the sidelines and experiencing the moment is something I will always remember. It's also a feeling that I can't wait to experience again and hopefully things work out for us this year."

Is there a back in the NFL that you try to model your game after? If so, who? "I respect what Vonta Leach has done for the position at the next level. I love watching him play. He has no fear in his eyes, is a physical hammer in the backfield and is someone that will lay his body on the line for the rest of the team. He doesn't care about the attention and is just an old-school, smash-mouth football player, which is what I want to be."