Pirates Return To Practice

UABSPORTS.COM Junior inside reciever Justin Hardy
Junior inside reciever Justin Hardy

Aug 14, 2013

GREENVILLE, N.C. - After enjoying its first off day of camp Tuesday, East Carolina returned to Hight Field at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex with a two-and-a-half-hour workout in shells. The Pirates continued preparations for Saturday's final intra-squad scrimmage of camp.

"Today was a rebound day of sorts after the guys moved into their off-campus housing and into the dorms," fourth-year head coach Ruffin McNeill said. "I was proud of the way the team approached practice and thought the intensity level was high. The players continue to grasp what we are trying to do here and I have been thoroughly pleased with camp thus far."

The Pirates spent nearly an hour of the morning session in skeleton drills against early-designated scouts or in team-on-team with continuing focus on fundamentals and assignment football.

After going through basic drills and routes at the beginning of the practice, the offense spent periods against scouts working on screens, inside releases and with wide receivers going one-on-one against defensive backs. McNeill and his staff also dedicated almost 20 minutes on special teams work before concluding the workout with 25 minutes of team-on-team.

ECU will conduct its final two-a-day of fall camp Thursday with a morning and afternoon workout before returning to a single-practice schedule Friday.

Thursday's Practice Times: 8:45 a.m. - 11:15 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Season Opener: Aug. 31 vs. Old Dominion in Greenville (7:00 p.m.)

Positional Snapshots
Today's "Q&A" format will highlight the Pirates' inside receivers:

Inside Receivers Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick
As everyone knows, the spread features two receiving units - inside and outside. Can you explain the difference between the two in regards to responsibilities and how you determine which players are a better fit for one or the other? "When you say inside, they are the guys that line up primarily in the slots, but that's not to say the never move to the outside. When we go trips to the left there is a single receiver out there, but generally the inside guys have to use quickness and be able to block the outside linebackers. So they have to be really tough guys and run the routes that are more over the middle, where the outside guys have a little more speed and height to run slant and post routes, and work on the outside of the field."



Your preseason All-America candidate Justin Hardy played both roles at times last year - is that common or simply a tribute to Justin's versatility and talent? On a related note, how do explain his remarkable career that began as a walk-on? "Justin will naturally be the outside receiver on the right side when we are trips to the left, that's the offense in itself. The "Y" is the most complex of the receiver positions and that is what he plays. They have to be the most versatile because they have to do more things than the other receivers. But we do move Justin around because he is just such a good player and we don't want defenses to target him. So we do put him as a "Z" receiver at times to create mismatches where we can get him one-on-one. The reason he is so good is because he comes to work each day just as he did when he walked on. He has the same attitude every day in practice. He is not our fastest or biggest receiver, but he has a lot of skills and does have a great ability to go attack and judge the ball to make plays."

Speaking of Justin, he and Danny Webster have certainly excited Pirate fans for the last two years and offer your unit plenty of game-day experience. What else does that pair bring to the table that maybe some don't realize? "That they do block so well. It's not just about how many balls you catch - there is only one ball. I tell them all the time that if you average 10 catches a game you would have 120 catches at the end of the regular season and might lead the nation. But we like to have about 82 plays a game and with that mindset, there would be 72 times where you would not have the ball. They are not going to be out there every play, but three-fourths of the time they will, and they won't get every ball. So most of the time the receivers are just football players, and they have to get out there and block to help free some guys up to make plays and keep our offense moving forward."

Your career has somewhat been defined by pass-oriented, explosive offenses, most notably as an assistant at Louisville and as head coach at Chattanooga. How different or similar is this particular offense from a schematic standpoint than those you've had success with in the past? "It is very similar. In fact, at Louisville we implemented Dennis Erickson's old offense from Miami with Michael Irvin and all those kind of guys with the big one-back type sets. When I was at Louisville I started to study Hal Mumme's offense. After we were let go at Louisville, I actually spent spring ball over at Kentucky every day learning the ins-and-outs of the offense. Once I got to Chattanooga, I would go back every year after I got to know Coach Mumme, and started to really incorporate this offense into what I did at Chattanooga. When Coach Ruff and Coach (Lincoln) Riley came to ECU, they wanted to run the same type of offense that Coach (Mike) Leach used at Kentucky and Texas Tech, so it was been a lot of fun getting back to what I really knew."

In reviewing the 2012 season, what were some things you circled as areas in your unit to address and improve on this year? "We want to be more consistent with catching the ball. We had a lot of catches a year ago, but still had too many drops - so that's the number one thing we are working on. Secondly, we want to improve running with the ball after the catch. We still didn't make things happen after the short throws and turn them into explosive plays. So that is another area of emphasis this fall."

Who are some younger players that have caught your eye, either in the spring or during the first few days of preseason workouts? "At the inside position Isaiah Jones has been lights out. I thought he was going to be really good, but he's a lot better than even I expected early. I knew he was eventually going to be a heck of a player for us, but I didn't think 12 days into camp he would be this good. He has all the makings of being a superstar at this level if he continues to work each day and get better."

Junior inside receiver Justin Hardy
What are your personal and team goals for the 2013 season? "I think everyone on the team has the same personal goals in trying to become a better overall player. During camp I have been working on more precise route running, becoming a better pass catcher and my blocking down field. We want to leave Conference USA with a championship and win a big bowl. That's where our focus is at right now - making a statement this year before we head into the new conference in 2014. This team has the potential to be one of the best in the country as long as we do the things we are coached."

What was your thought process coming out of high school in regards to the recruiting process? Why did you decide to walk-on at ECU instead of taking a guaranteed scholarship offer somewhere else? "I felt that I was overlooked as a recruit. I knew what I wanted to do and that was play for a Division I school. Coach McNeill and Coach Kirkpatrick gave me a shot and it's been the best decision I have ever made. So far it's been a great experience. Having the opportunity to play college football and to be able to get an education has been a dream come true."

What would you list as your most memorable ECU Pirate moment to date? "Hands down the double-overtime win against Marshall last year. Even though I had a good game personally, we fought as one unit and never quit. The coaches kept challenging us to finish and we were not going to lose our final home game. I thought you saw a lot of the younger guys step up in a big situations and that's what we have brought to camp this year."

Most receivers view blocking as a necessary evil, true? "Coach Kirkpatrick always says `if you block, you play'. Everyone wants the ball. When the game is on the line I want the ball - if you don't then you're not being true to yourself. But as receivers we understand that there is more to the game than just catching and running with the ball. You have to know your role and sometimes that is blocking, which I love because I can be physical with the outside linebackers or the secondary."

Do you ever offer suggestions to Shane Carden such as "I'm wide open?" "We do communicate with one another on the sideline. That's when you make your adjustments offensively. As the game goes along, I will notice certain things that defenses are doing to me and other receivers and relay that back to Shane. He then talks with Coach Riley and we adjust our game plan accordingly."

Junior inside receiver Danny Webster
What are your personal and team goals for the 2013 season? "I believe my personal goals match those of the team and that's to win every game, win a conference championship and go to a BCS Bowl. We want to limit the turnovers, penalties and mental mistakes. As long as we don't beat ourselves and do the things we are supposed to do, I think this can be a magical year. Right now I'm working on becoming more explosive after the catch with my first and second steps. I think that I'm a faster player than what I have shown and that has to do with creating speed after I get the ball. My first focus has to be on making the catch, but I have to trust myself that I will always make the grab, and now I need to work on turning it up the field and use my speed."

Many say you play with an intensity level and contact mindset that typically is seen on defense. Is that just your personality or something that has continually developed during your career? How does that approach help you as a receiver? "That was the way I was taught to play the game. My dad was my coach all the way up through high school and he taught me that there was a certain way to play this game and that's to be physical. Football is a contact sport and is one that you can physically intimidate your opponent just from hitting them. When I get a ball over the middle, I know No. 2 is on the other side. I know that Hardy is over there. We have the same mindset that if I am running to the right, he is coming back and if that linebacker is close to me and I keep running, Hardy is going to crack back and get him."

What has been your most memorable ECU Pirate moment during your first two years? "It would have to be the catch against Marshall last year to send the game into overtime. We were down with I believe less than two minutes in the game and we pulled together and marched down the field to tie it up. There was time for one last play and I don't think anybody on the team or in the stands felt like we couldn't score. I just happened to be open in the back of the endzone and Shane did a great job of threading the ball. That was probably the best feeling I have ever had on the football field."

Most receivers view blocking as a necessary evil, true? "No, not at all. Blocking and tackling are necessary and you can't win the game without it. You can't throw it unless you block. You can't catch it unless someone else blocks for you, and if they don't tackle us we are going to score. As a receiver our job first and foremost is to get open. But if we don't get the ball, then we go into attack mode and do whatever we can to help the guy with the ball score, and usually it's blocking down the field."

Do you ever offer suggestions to Shane Carden such as "I'm wide open?" "We all talk when we get to the sidelines. On the field, Shane is the leader and with our fast paced offense we don't have too much time to communicate those type things. I will let Shane know what I am seeing or what the defense is giving me, and then he talks with Coach Riley. Shane does a great job of making mental notes as the game is going on and he uses all the information that we give him. But as far as saying `Hey I'm open', we don't have to tell him those things, he knows.