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Pirates looking to plug holes up front

By By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Trying to replace an NFL caliber player is a difficult chore for a college position coach. Having to replace two NFL-worthy stars, well, that’s darn near impossible.
However, that’s exactly the daunting task that East Carolina co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler faces in 2008.
With left guard Matt Butler and tackle Josh Coffman now attempting to play on Sundays, Shankweiler must fill the shoes of two behemoths up front. Butler is now in training camp with the Detroit Lions, while Coffman is still weighing his NFL options after a brief stint with the Patriots.
The good news for Shankweiler’s offensive line is that the Pirates will return five guys who made at least five starts last season and another who started 13 games as a freshman before sitting out last season with an illness.
Leading the charge will be junior right guard Doug Palmer, who was the only offensive lineman other than Butler to start all 13 games last fall. Palmer moved to the right guard slot last season after playing on the defensive side of the ball as a freshman, and earned honorable mention All-C-USA in 2007.
At the center position, ECU will have Fred Hicks back from his season-ending ankle injury and will also have the services of Stephen Heis who started the final eight games at center in Hicks’ absence.
At the other guard slot, Shankweiler is hoping that either Terrance Campbell or T.J. Harper can take over for Butler. Campbell is back with the Pirates this season after sitting out 2007 following a mild heart attack during East Carolina’s offseason conditioning program. Campbell started 13 games as a freshman and was named to C-USA’s All-Freshman Team in 2006. Meanwhile, Harper comes to the Greenville campus from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi. He was two-year starter at PRCC and picked up All-Region honors last fall. Right now, Harper is listed as the starter, but Campbell will likely see plenty of action.
The tackle slots will be manned by a couple of young guys that Shankweiler is very high on. D.J. Scott is etched in at the right tackle position, while Stanley Bryant is scheduled to start at left tackle.
Scott started eight games last season and was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team. Shankweiler thinks he’ll be even better this season.
Meanwhile, Bryant also possesses limited starting experience as either Patrick Pinkney or Rob Kass’ backside protector. Bryant started eight games last year as well, taking over at the left tackle spot after Coffman flipped to the right side midway through the season. Although he started just eight games last season, he was second to Palmer in knockdowns with 40 for the 8-5 Pirates.
Junior Sean Allen and sophomore Corey Dowless will serve as valuable backups along the front.