2007 East Carolina Football Preview

Go C-USA! Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson

July 27, 2007

After a return to the postseason in his second year at East Carolina, head coach Skip Holtz has his aim set on building the Pirates' program, not just another winning team.

A challenging schedule will be the primary roadblock between ECU and a second consecutive postseason appearance, but Holtz has said since his arrival he would feel more comfortable when the team began featuring products of his own recruiting efforts.

The time is now, starting at quarterback, where Holtz signee Rob Kass will shoulder the responsibility of replacing program mainstay James Pinkney.

ECU's attempt at a second straight winning season -- the Pirates finished 7-6 in 2006 after a loss to South Florida in the Papajohns.com Bowl -- will begin with a daunting trip to Virginia Tech and also includes a non-conference tilt at West Virginia and a pair of home contests against in-state rivals North Carolina and NC State.

Rob Kass, a sophomore, was the only ECU quarterback other than Pinkney to throw a pass last season. But the mop-up duty he saw in 2006 will pale in comparison to the challenges he faces as the man in charge of the Pirates' offense this fall. Kass realizes the act he's following -- Pinkney left ECU as the team's second all-time passing leader behind David Garrard -- is a tough one. But with coaching staff newcomer and longtime Holtz associate Todd Fitch on board as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Kass should get the attention he needs to blossom into a top-flight passer.

With star receiver Aundrae Allison off to the NFL after an explosive two seasons with the Pirates, the team he leaves behind needs some reliable new sets of hands. Sophomore Jamar Bryant could be the answer, but he'll need plenty of help from Phillip Henry and Steven Rogers in order to keep double-teams away.

In the backfield, Chris Johnson and Dominique Lindsay will be the lead runners. But improving last year's production of 115.5 yards rushing per game is a must.

Some serious mixing and matching occurred on the line last season, especially at center. Sophomore Stephen Heis is the leading candidate and should be helped by experienced guards Matt Butler and Josh Coffman.

A great deal of balance has been established up front the last two seasons by coordinator Greg Hudson, but this year the Pirates are hoping for a more attacking approach after managing only 18 sacks all season. On the ends, Marcus Hands, Zack Slate, Scotty Robinson and C.J. Wilson all return with experience. Added to the mix is two-year starter Mark Robinson and North Carolina transfer Khalif Mitchell.

Juniors Quentin Cotton and Pierre Bell will again flank senior middle linebacker Fred Wilson, which should give the Pirates the best linebacking corps in Holtz's three seasons. The trio finished second, third and fourth, respectively, in tackles last season.

The secondary will undoubtedly be an early target for opposing quarterbacks after three of the Pirates' four starters were lost to graduation. Senior Travis Williams hopes his second season as a starting corner will display continued development. Holtz wants Williams to become a leader in a largely inexperienced secondary.

Sophomore Ben Hartman hopes he can stay productive after stealing a share of the kicking duties from Robert Lee last season. Replacing punter Ryan Dougherty's leadership won't be easy; Nathan Przestrzelski and Matt Dodge will battle in the fall for the top job.

There are, no doubt, some major concerns -- quarterback, receiver and the defensive backfield, to name a few -- but it's not hard to see that Holtz has things headed in the right direction.

"I'm encouraged because I think we are better in so many positions, but I'm still not satisfied because we're not ready to play," says Holtz, who is 12-12 with the Pirates entering his third season. "We're growing. We're making strides, but we're a long way away from being able to be competitive against the schedule that we have, especially early in the season."

ECU's opening month consists of games versus the aforementioned Hokies, Tar Heels and Mountaineers, along with battles against both C-USA divisional winners last season - Southern Miss and Houston.

Republished with permission of Nathan Summers, Athlon Sports correspondent



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