Position battles intensify at scrimmage|Holtz looks to build depth chart

Published 12:31 pm Sunday, August 16, 2009

Contributing Writer

GREENVILLE — East Carolina University held its first scrimmage of the summer Saturday and after two-and-a-half hours of pad-popping action at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Pirates’ fifth-year coach Skip Holtz came away relatively pleased with his team’s play.
“Overall it was productive,” Holtz said. “I think they played hard. I think we have a chance to be a very physical football team. I was impressed with the hitting out here. I still think we are a long way away from being anywhere near game ready. When you look at the number of penalties and dropped passes, missed opportunities on interceptions, missed assignments, we still have a long way to go before we can go out there and field a team.”
Holtz said the objective Saturday was to knock the rust off the first team, and hash out the second and third units. During the scrimmage, the first team got 20 snaps, while the second and third units each took 40.
“The primary thing we were trying to do is find out how far away our Ones are from being polished and game ready, and the second thing we wanted to do is build a depth chart,” Holtz said. “We have to put the depth chart together and sort out special teams.”
Quarterback Patrick Pinkney was sharp as he connected on six of his nine pass attempts for 113 yards. Pinkney’s day was highlighted by a 57-yard touchdown strike to senior wide receiver Jamar Bryant. It was ECU’s only offensive touchdown of the day.
Fellow wideout Darryl Freeney also had a nice day as he caught two passes for 37 yards.
The training camp battles at the running back, tight end and backup quarterback positions heated up on Saturday as several players tried to separate themselves from the pack.
“The offense did pretty good today. A lot of young guys stepped up, but we have to make more progress,” Pinkney said. “We had a lot of dropped balls by the skill players, but the line blocked pretty good. We just have to cut down on M/As (missed assignments), but that all comes with being on the practice field.”
The fight to the top of the running back spot was a little hampered on Saturday as Dominique Lindsay did not participate due to a concussion suffered early in the week, while recently cleared to practice junior transfer Giavanni Ruffin watched from the sideline.
J.R. Rogers failed to capitalize on his opportunity to impress because of an injury, and with Norman Whitley still rehabing a shoulder injury, that left all eyes on Kentucky transfer Brandon Jackson and junior Jonathan Williams.
“J.R. Rogers hurt his knee early in the scrimmage, which at this point they don’t think it’s that serious, but it limited his reps today and really threw the burden on the other backs that were there,” Holtz said. “It put those two (Jackson and Williams) in the fold. I think they are physical running backs. I think they run hard and have proven they have the ability to make someone miss in the open field. I was impressed with the way they ran today.”
Jackson led all rushers with 50 yards.
Holtz also came away feeling good about the play of his two backup quarterbacks — true freshman Rio Johnson and redshirt freshman Josh Jordan.
“I think there is a lot of talent in that freshmen class,” Holtz said. “I was really impressed with Rio today. I was impressed with the way he moves his feet, runs around and his decisions with the ball under his arm … I thought he did a nice job of protecting the ball today.
“Josh Jordan is a physical player who has been around the offense for a little longer and probably knows it a little better. But we are just going to have to look at the film and make that evaluation and see where we are. It’s a close race.”
Another close race is at the tight end spot, where several players are vying to get atop the depth chart, including former quarterback Rob Kass.
“Right now it’s frustrating because you bring in a junior college player in Korey Reynolds and he wasn’t able to go today because of a concussion. We have had some pretty physical practices,” Holtz said. “(Kevin) Gidrey got a lot of work with the Ones, but I think Rob Kass is really stepping into a role. He has done a nice job during the week in practice … I was also really impressed with Zico (Pasut) today. I thought he showed some things, as a freshman to come out here and play the physical brand that he did, and to pick up the offense as well as he did.”
On the other side of the ball, it was business as usual for the ECU defense as it had six tackles for a loss and kept the Pirates’ offense out of the end zone for most of the day.
“We came out and had good energy,” said Pirates’ defensive end C.J. Wilson. “We were flying around and made a bunch of plays, but like Coach Holtz said we are still not where we want to be.
Freshman defensive end Matt Milner led ECU with seven tackles including one sack, while fellow freshman Michael Brooks tied for second with six. Along with Cliff Perryman, Brooks had a game-high two sacks.
Redshirt freshmen Justin Venable and Darry Reynolds each had an interception.
The play of Milner and Brooks highlighted a strong day by the freshmen class.
“The freshmen really impressed me,” Holtz said. “I don’t know how many of them are going to make a significant contribution this year, but I was really impressed with the two defensive linemen, Brooks and (Jimmy) Booth, and Matt Milner at defensive end. I don’t think there is a bust in the group.”