Football Closes Preseason Camp On High Note
Aug 19, 2013
GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill officially completed his fourth fall camp Monday as the Pirates wrapped up the NCAA-recognized preseason period with a two-and-a-half-hour morning practice in full pads at Hight Field inside the Cliff Moore Practice Facility.
McNeill and his staff guided the Pirates through opening individual and positional drills before conducting 32 minutes of team-on-team. The offense spent time against early-designated scouts and in skeleton drills focusing on screens and third-down plays.
The Pirates went through 15 minutes of special teams and dedicated the final quarter hour to team-on-team work.
With the start of classes, the Pirates will return to their in-season schedule which regularly will include 3:30 p.m. practices Tuesday through Thursday, a Sunday night session and an off day each Monday. ECU will make one exception with an off-date tomorrow to allow players to acclimate themselves to the first day of school.
"I thought this was the best camp in my four years at ECU," McNeill said. "The group did a great job of doing the things we asked such as attacking each day, embracing the process and being competitive. Right now I feel we are ahead of schedule in all three phases of the game, but there are some things that we need to keep working on before our first game."
McNeill also indicated the program's initial depth chart of the season is still being discussed and formalized, and will be released prior to his first press conference of the season next Monday.
Outside Receivers Coach Dave Nichol
If someone were to evaluate our roster from afar, they might separate your outside group as pass-catchers with more big-play potential and plenty of speed. Is that an accurate or fair assessment? "Yes, I would hope that is a fair assessment. I've talked since the beginning of camp that we need to be a big play group, more so than we were last year. We have some size and speed, and now we are trying to translate that into being good receivers. We still have to become more consistent in catching the football day in and day out, but in this type of offense, that's what outside guys need to do and that's make the big play."
You return plenty of experience in senior starter Reese Wiggins and senior Lance Ray, and have talented 'game-day' newcomers in DaQuan Barnes, Cam Worthy, Bryce Williams and Devon Grayson to name a few who could possibly impact your unit. What does quality depth allow you do to as a skill position coach? "Well, what I am trying to do right now is create competition. I've kind of joked with the guys and told them we are the `no name' group. Other than Reese, Lance has four catches and that's it. No one else has any college catches in my group. The potential is there, but that's always a scary word for a coach to use. It has created some great competition and will give someone a chance to step up. I told the group today that we are two weeks away from the first game and there is nothing set in stone right now. So hopefully guys step up instead of thinking that everyone is going to play because that's not the case. I am still looking for guys to separate themselves."
With last year being your first at ECU, did the acclimation and adjustment go as you had expected? What maybe were some of the things that might have surprised you about the program in general and the players you inherited? "I think last year was an easy adjustment for me. Having known Coach Ruff and working with Coach (Lincoln) Riley before, it was a smooth transition into a system that I was familiar with. Coming from the west coast the last five years, I was happy with the overall toughness of our team. Honestly, I think kids in this part of the country are tougher, and that's good because as a coach you always want tough kids. So that was a pleasant surprise along with the overall resilience of our team and that's a direct reflection of our head coach."
On a related note, you spent the previous five years at Pac-12 member Arizona. From a comparison standpoint, did you find any parallels here? If not, what were some of the more noticeable differences other than geographic location? "I think football to a greater number of people is more important in this part of the country. I'm originally from Texas where football is a big deal, but in eastern North Carolina and especially the Pirate Nation, I think it means more. I like being in a place where football is really important and I believe the players do as well. On the field, the speed I think is very similar to that of the west coast. I definitely think we have a fast team, and in the spread offense, that's the kind of kids you need. So I would say our speed is equal to any team out west."
In reviewing the aforementioned 2012 season, what were some things you addressed during the spring and in camp as areas you wanted to see improvement in? "Toughness on the perimeter blocking and explosive plays, or as I call it, pop plays - those were points of emphasis. Identifying who we are suppose to block and making sure we finish the blocks. Like I said earlier, another is big play potential or big play ability. We need to have guys that can make big plays for us and that was a challenge. In the spring I kept track of just that thing. I wanted to see how often the ball was getting to each receiver and what were they doing with it after the catch. Then we came into the film room and I was able to provide them with instant feedback, both positive and negative."
We mentioned Grayson earlier, so can you talk about his skills and development and perhaps include any other young players who might have caught your eye heading into the 2013 campaign? "Along with Isaiah Jones, who has been working with Coach (Donnie) Kirkpatrick, I think Davon has had a really good camp for a freshman. We knew that they were both really good kids that were really hungry and really worked hard. I show my guys tape of Isaiah and the things he is doing on the field and how he carries himself. You know its funny, but if you work hard, life is just that much better. Both of those guys are proving that and are going to be fun to watch this season."
Senior Outside Receiver Lance Ray
Both on and off the playing field, you've already had to make adjustments many others don't have to - from Arkansas to junior college to ECU. How much, and in what way, did playing in the Arkansas spread system help when you arrived here, or is it simply a case of just playing football?. "Playing the same kind of offense at Arkansas really helped with the transition. Being able to get two years under my belt after moving to the receiver position out of high school for the first time was a huge help last year. It allowed me to become more comfortable with the basic concept of what Coach Nichol and Coach Riley were doing, and allowed me to mentor some of the younger guys and help them along."
You have put up some remarkable, if not incredible, numbers in Coach Connors' strength and conditioning program. Is that part of your development something you've always enjoyed, and if so, why? "It's something I have enjoyed since high school. To be honest, I don't really consider it work but I understand what Coach Connors is trying to accomplish and I take everything he throws at me and use it on the field. I have benefited greatly from his speed drills in the weight room and it has helped with getting in and out of routes."
Outside of your 90-yard kickoff return for a TD in the opener against Appalachian State, what do you remember most about the 2012 season? "Even though I didn't get on the field, I would have to say the Marshall game. We fought together and I think it showed the Pirate fans what type of team we had, one that would fight tooth and nail for each other until the end. The atmosphere that night was electric and something I hope we can see many times this year in Dowdy-Ficklen."
What part of a blocking assignment (on the outside) do you enjoy the most? "Getting the crack back on the safeties. It's not a cheap shot or dirty play, but a way for us as receivers to be a little physical and help our teammates break one loose."
We know your top priority is to help the team win, so are you aware of the actual number of catches you have during a game? "To be honest, I don't think that has ever crossed my mind. I just focus on the assignment, proper technique and giving good effort. If I do those things, then Shane (Carden) will get me the ball and the receptions will come."
Senior Outside Receiver Reese Wiggins
Both of your parents have athletic backgrounds, so what kind of support system did they provide during the recruiting process and how have they continued to help you since signing at ECU in 2009? "They have been extremely supportive in helping me reach my dream of playing Division I football. My grandparents have also played a major roll along with my belief and faith in God in just trying to keep my head on straight and not make any mistakes. And if I do, try to learn from them to become a better son and young man."
Speaking of 2009 - a year later, Coach McNeill arrived and introduced the spread scheme on offense. How excited were you, as a receiver, at the time to hear that you would play in a system like that? "Like any other receiver you get excited when you hear that you are going to be throwing the ball a lot, because you like to catch balls, run routes and score a lot of points. So to say I was excited would be an understatement. But no matter what type of offense we decided to run I was going to be happy, because it's an opportunity to play and do something I love."
What has been your most memorable ECU Pirate moment so far during your career? "Wow - there have been so many and I hope to continue to make more this season. But my top two would have to be the conference championship my true freshman year in 2009. It was a great experience to see first-hand how hard those guys worked and how much they sacrificed to win a championship and that is something I want this year's team experience. Next, it would have to be my first career touchdown against Southern Miss on the second play of the game. It was one of those moments were I could see all the hard work that I put in pay off."
We know your top priority is to help the team win, so are you aware of the actual number of catches you have during a game? "Not at all. As a receiver you want to catch the ball. First of all, if you start thinking that way you're being selfish. Secondly, you're not going to be focused when the ball does come your way. You are going to put so much pressure on that one catch and bad things are bound to happen. So I just work my technique, try to get open as much as possible and if the ball comes my way, I just try to make the best play I can."