SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  East Carolina Pirates

 
The Lowdown
Coach: John Thompson (1st year)
2002 record: 4-8
C-USA finish: T-5th
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 124.0 ypg
(6th in C-USA, 85th in nation)
Pass: 214.8 ypg (5th, 60th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 207.1 ypg (9th, 107th)
Pass: 238.6 ypg (9th, 89th)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
WR  17  Damarcus Fox  Jr. 
WR   7   Terrance Copper   Sr.  
LT   69   Brian Rimpf   Sr.  
LG   76   Charlie Dempsey   Jr.  
C   68   Doug White   Sr.  
RG   72   Brian Fox   Sr.  
RT  61  Brandon Pope  Sr. 
TE  42  James Myrick  So. 
QB   4   Paul Troth   Jr.  
TB   33   Art Brown   Sr.  
FB  31  Vonta Leach  Sr. 
Defense (5)
DE  90  Guy Whimper  So. 
NG  97  Derek Helms  Sr. 
DT   99   Damane Duckett   Sr.  
DE  34  Richard Koonce  So. 
WLB   43   Josh Chilsom   So.  
MLB   40   Chris Moore   So.  
SLB  41  Kent Nealy  Sr. 
CB  37  Brandon Rainer  Sr. 
CB   39   Reicko Jones   So.  
FS  24  Antonie Nealy  So. 
SS   45   Travis Heath   Sr.  
Special Teams
10  Cameron Broadwell  Jr. 
Ryan Dougherty  Fr. 
KR  17  Damarcus Fox  Jr. 
PR  Terrance Copper  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Sept. 1  at Cincinnati 
Sept. 6  West Virginia 
Sept. 13  at Miami 
Sept. 20  at Wake Forest 
Oct. 1  Houston 
Oct. 11  North Carolina 
Oct. 18  at Army 
Oct. 25  Louisville 
Nov. 1  at Memphis 
Nov. 8  South Florida 
Nov. 22  at Tulane 
Nov. 29  Southern Miss 
East Carolina will probably be a work in progress in 2003 as first-year coach John Thompson and his staff become familiar with their personnel while the Pirate players learn new offensive and defensive schemes.

This is nothing new for Thompson, who was in a similar position last year while serving as Florida's defensive coordinator under first-year head coach Ron Zook. "It was midseason before our players really grasped what we were doing and settled in," Thompson says.

Considering that ECU starts the season with four games against 2002 bowl teams, including dates with West Virginia and Miami, the Pirates might want to push up the transition timetable.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

The ingredients for an effective running game are in place at East Carolina, and that should be a good building block for Thompson. The Pirates have an experienced offensive line, led by senior tackle Brian Rimpf, and a stable of talented running backs, ranging from proven Art Brown to promising junior college transfer Kevin Fain.

The running game should help junior quarterback Paul Troth be more efficient throwing the ball. He threw 15 touchdowns and 20 interceptions last fall. "It is different," Troth says of the attack coordinated by Rick Stockstill, who joined the ECU staff after 14 years at Clemson. "There's less reading now. It's more shorter passes. We have playmakers and we want to get the ball in their hands as quickly as possible."

There will also be more two-back sets, which will get physical fullback Vonta Leach more involved in the offense. ECU has also added a true tight end. Troth's targets on the outside include the elusive Terrance Copper, the improving Edwin Rios and Richard Hourigan, a possession receiver who caught 19 passes last season.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Organized chaos is the best way to describe the way Thompson's defenses played at Southern Miss, Arkansas and Florida. Foes will be challenged to pick up blitzes and read coverages. "We try to look the same, but we will do a lot of different things," says tackle Damane Duckett.

The blitzes will be designed to keep opposing quarterbacks from having enough time to find open receivers downfield and the zones should help mask the deficiencies of a questionable secondary.

Duckett and Derek Helms are effective run stoppers in the middle. The Pirates' linebackers, including sophomores Chris Moore and Josh Chilsom, are all fast. Moore is coming back from a knee injury aggravated when he was playing basketball.

Safety Travis Heath is the only proven defensive back. He is a big-hitter who is capable of making big plays.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

There are some big holes to fill in the kicking game. Juniors Chris Baglio and Cameron Broadwell will contend for the kicking job, but redshirt freshman Ryan Dougherty is an intriguing possibility. Dougherty is being groomed as a punter, but he was also an exceptional kicker on the high school level.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

The Pirates will have to move quickly past the learning phase under Thompson and develop a degree of comfort before facing an opening gauntlet that includes Cincinnati, West Virginia, Miami and Wake Forest, with three of those games on the road.

The Pirates should be able to run the football effectively, and that will open up some things for Troth and the passing attack. Thompson would like his team to control the clock, so his young defense can stay off the field as much as possible.

Thompson's personality, as well as an attractive six-game home schedule, has energized the East Carolina fan base, and the Pirates have traditionally responded well when fans have been supportive. Fan support, however, can take you only so far. This ECU club lacks the overall talent to be considered legitimate contenders in C-USA.

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