East Carolina Finishes Work For First Intra-Squad Scrimmage

UABSPORTS.COM Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Lincoln Riley
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Lincoln Riley

Aug. 9, 2013

Quarterback Highlights

GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina finalized preparations for its first intra-squad scrimmage of preseason with a brisk two-hour workout in shells Friday morning on Hight Field at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex.

The contest, which will be held at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday morning, will primarily serve as a personnel and organizational scrimmage designed to start formulating the program's first depth chart of the season, emphasize new officiating rules and work on substitution patterns.

"We had a shorter practice today getting ready for tomorrow's scrimmage, but it was a lively and competitive workout," McNeill said. "I've talked about it a lot this camp, but I really like our team chemistry and competitive spirit. These guys really compete against one another in each group drill and I appreciate the effort and the way they attack each practice."

Friday's workout consisted of three team periods totaling 31 minutes where the Pirates' worked on screens, the run and third-and-long plays with all four levels of the positional roster experiencing action for the second-straight day. The skill positions spent the first 21 minutes working on the quick game and routes on air, while the offensive and defensive line continued work on pass protection and pass rushing drills.

"Overall I'm pleased where we are after the first week of camp," McNeill added. "Execution and timing have been stressed every day and I have seen great improvement in both areas. Offensively, everything is about timing with the offensive line's communication up front to the quarterback and receiver routes, and Coach (Lincoln) Riley has that group performing at a high level right now.

"Coach (Rick) Smith has done a great job defensively adding things schematically and fundamentally, and the guys have really taken hold of what he is trying to do. On special teams, Coach (Kirk) Doll keeps adding things each day and they have a good grasp on what we are trying to accomplish. So I am really excited with what I have seen on all three sides of the ball thus far."

Saturday's intra-squad scrimmage, which McNeill indicated would span 60 to 70 plays, is closed to the public.

Camp Notes:
Freshman OL Brandon Smith was cleared to return to practice Friday morning after missing nearly a week of work because of a concussion ... On the other hand, senior DE Justin Dixon (left knee), senior DE Lee Pegues (concussion) and sophomore OL Chaz Lowery (left knee) will be sidelined for Saturday's scrimmage because of injuries, while freshman DE Randall Anderson (left toe), senior OWR Lance Ray (right leg) and sophomore DB Christian Simmons (left leg) are listed as questionable ... Sophomore PK/P Davis Plowman, a transfer from Texas A&M, was officially added to the Pirates' 105-man camp roster Friday and will participate with the team for the first time Saturday morning.

Saturday's Scrimmage: 9:00 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' quarterbacks:

Offensive Coordinator/Quarterback Coach Lincoln Riley
The oft-asked question you've received since the spring has been to compare your preparation from a year ago with a returning starter at quarterback, especially one who accomplished as much as Shane Carden did last season. What has been the biggest difference? "The first thing is that we don't have as many quarterbacks and that's allowed Shane (Carden), Cody (Keith) and Kurt (Benkert) to get a lot of reps. You can see a difference with all of those guys, especially with Shane and Cody who have been in the system for a while. I think our starting point as a quarterback group is a lot further along than it was this time last year. I think the beauty is all in the consistency. We are pretty consistent as coaches in our expectations, which are always going to be high in what we do. We believe in not running a million different things, but getting good at a few things and doing them well over and over again."

While he enjoyed success in many facets during the 2012 season, you continued to emphasize pocket presence and footwork among other things with Shane during the spring. Why are those two elements so important in his development? "Footwork is the key in throwing. A lot of people think throwing is all about someone's right arm, but the biggest thing is being in a position to throw. There's a lot of people who can go stand out there and play catch without a live rush coming at them and throw the ball well and make things happen. But when you have a live rush, you have to set your feet in a lot of different situations and find a way to get the ball off and on time with the correct amount of velocity, the footwork is the key. Pocket presence goes hand in hand with footwork. We try to create soft spots in the pockets where our guys have room to throw and they have to understand that the soft spot is not always going to be at the same point. So some of that is coaching and some of it's on the player. The more reps they get the more natural it becomes and the better the feel at the position."

How much freedom does Shane Carden have when he walks up to the line of scrimmage for a play? Is that consistent with any experienced quarterback in this system or scheme? "We spend a lot of time on making sure that Shane and the other guys check off to the right play once we break the huddle and see how the defense is set up. We coach them hard on making sure they understand what we're looking for, where we want to attack, and furthermore, what we want to use to attack the defense. They all have the keys and freedom to make a decision at the line, but that is something we spend a lot of time on and take pride in."

Having quality depth is critical everywhere, but a deep quarterback position isn't always mentioned the same way as the others. How important is having someone like Cody Keith in his current role and what does that do for your confidence level? "It's really important, especially if a guy isn't playing well or gets banged up, then it gets a lot more important. There is the future to think about, the way we run practices the closer we get to game time, two of our guys get the majority of the reps. So the way they practice and play affects the other guys as well. We have to be strong back there and have guys that can get out there and lead. If something happens, we need a guy who can go in there and pick right up so we don't miss a beat offensively. Cody has done a nice job in camp and I've been really proud of his development. I know he is itching to get out there and have a chance to prove himself in primetime."

Speaking of depth, what are your early thoughts on freshmen Kurt Benkert and B.J. Beecher, a 6-foot-7 walk-on who earned a place on the 105-man camp roster? "Even though he is a freshman, Kurt came in as a midterm and has been with us since the spring. He is very intelligent, has strong attention to detail and really throws the ball well. I'm really happy he is at East Carolina. He was a big gift for us in the recruiting wars, has picked up things very nicely and his future is extremely bright. B.J. has done well in a short time span. He definitely wins the award for tallest quarterback standing at 6-7. He has a as strong arm, has some really good physical skills, has a good head on his shoulders and very calm. There is going to be a lot of developmental stuff with him, but he certainly has all the skills to make some noise in the future if he stays at it and works hard."

If there's anyone who is a product or can say they cut their teeth on the spread no-huddle scheme, it's you. What sold you on this offense initially and how have you put your personal stamp on it over the years? "I guess it would have been all the success we had at Texas Tech. The fact that you can blend it to your personnel and it doesn't have to be done just one way make it the best offense out there. I like the mentality of being aggressive and trying to score every time we touch the ball was a big part of it. Also the simplicity where these guys don't have to think; they can go play fast and use all their athletic abilities and talents."

Junior quarterback Shane Carden
What are your personal and team goals for the 2013 season? "Personally its simple - to be better than last year by making less mistakes, better and faster decisions. During camp I've been working on footwork, getting through my reads faster and being more confident on the field. As far as a team, our goal is to win a conference championship."

What would you say is the most challenging part of your job? Why? "During the season I would say making sure that I put the team in the best position to win. Making the right reads at the line if I need to check off and going through my progressions to find the open receiver. I like having the pressure on my shoulders, and with the game on the line, I want the ball. The hardest part of the job would be during the summer workouts. After your 6:00 a.m. workouts you then have to go to class before coming out to the field in the afternoon. It's just a grind during the summer and then trying to get everyone out to the field at the same time with different class schedules is a chore. But with the group of guys we have, it turned out to be easier than I thought."

What would you list as your most memorable ECU Pirate moment to date? "Definitely the double-overtime win against Marshall. We fought hard as a team and never quit. That has been the mentality of this team for two years now and we continue that each day in practice. Plus having the Pirate Nation of 50,000 behind you throughout the entire game was an amazing feeling."

If you had to play defense, what position would you play? why? "I actually started at corner as a sophomore in high school, so I would say safety. I'm a little bigger now and think that I would be able to pick on the quarterback. But I would have to shed some weight to keep up with some of those receivers, especially our receiving corps."

Sophomore quarterback Cody Keith
What are some of the team goals for the 2013 season and what are you working on during camp? "To play our best and see how far we can go. We want to win the conference title and that's all everyone has been talking about during camp, and I think we got the team that can do it. Last year I was able to pick up the offense, so now I've working on taking the next step with some of the new packages and working on audibles, so I can make the correct reads at the line of scrimmage. But overall, I'm just trying to get better and prepare myself to be ready when my time is called."

You experienced more than most during your high school and prep school career - how did that prepare you for college life, both on and off the field? "Going prep school and then college helps for a smoother transition than jumping straight to college from high school. Getting to play an extra semester of football and work on some fine tuning was crucial for me and helped with my confidence, so when I stepped on campus I felt more comfortable in my abilities and was confident I could compete right away."

There is a lot of confidence in your abilities, competitive spirit and leadership skills within the program, even in a back-up role last year. How do you approach your preparation efforts while waiting for an opportunity to run this offense? "You sit back and wait for your name to be called. You have to practice hard, smart and with confidence knowing that you are one play away from getting on the field. I believe there is a plan for me and I have to have faith that when my time is called that I can go in there and do the job."

What has been your most memorable ECU Pirate moment during your first two years? "I would have to say throwing a touchdown during my first team period last year. It was during Thursday night football and I drove the team down the field and connected with Bryce Williams. It was exciting knowing that the guys had my back and as a freshman and something like that gives you a lot of confidence."