Pirates inch closer to a depth chart|Plenty of spots still up for grabs

Published 11:03 am Friday, April 16, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE – By the end of Saturday’s Purple and Gold game East Carolina’s first-year coach Ruffin McNeill will have concluded the first block of practice sessions and so far the Pirate alum likes what he has seen.
East Carolina wrapped up its 15th practice of the spring playing under the umbrella of an overcast sky with temperatures around the low 60s at the Cliff Moore Practice Facility on Wednesday, and afterwards the Pirates new skipper seemed please with the direction of his team.
“I will wait till after Saturday to give a final grade but right now it’s a high B or a low A,” McNeill said. “There has been a lot of progress, especially since we have a new staff trying to jell. We have been trying to imprint our personality on this football team and install our base packages on offense, defense and special teams. I really like the way we have progressed as a group.”
That progress as been accelerated by a fairly widespread enthusiasm by the players at camp.
“The best surprise of the spring has been how fast the players have grasped the schemes,” McNeill said. “Also the attention that our coaches have received by each player. Each group wanted to learn, wanted to do the technique and wanted to do whatever we asked then fundamentally. That’s really been a surprise. It seems like a small thing but it’s really a big thing for a coach. I call it just being coachable, and this has been a coachable group.”
The Pirates lost a ton of players off of last year’s Conference USA championship team, and McNeill said the returning players have stepped in and showed a strong fighting attitude.
“I have mentioned it before, but I really like the competitive spirit,” McNeill said. “These guys have competed well. We have lost a lot of guys from last year’s football team, 28 to be exact, and I like the way our young guys have stepped up and have been fighting for a position.”
There are several position battles still taking place at camp and Saturday’s Purple and Gold game will provide the players with one more opportunity to prove themselves and land a spot on the depth chart.
“There are some jobs that are still in battle mode. I would say (offensive coordinator) Lincoln (Riley) would say that quarterback is still one and some offensive line positions maybe because of some injuries,” McNeill said. “There are some defensive positions that are still battling. I know defensive end is one, there is a logjam there just to name a few.”
The position battles will likely go on all throughout the summer, but McNeill said he hopes to form a depth chart within two weeks.
“We will meet as a staff next week and will have some what of a two-deep at some positions,” McNeill said. “Some guys have stepped up and stepped forward and gained a position and some guys are still battling and that’s the fun part of it. “
Saturday’s Purple and Gold game will deviate slightly from that of years past due to the on-going renovations to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The exhibition will be limited to half the field, with the offense moving towards the Murphy Center. It will be a strict offense versus defense battle with limitations on specials teams. Field goal kicking and extra points will take place as usually, however, punt returners will forced to fair catch.
McNeill said one of the aspects he of Saturday’s exhibition he is most looking forward to is seeing the fans in the stand.
“I am very anxious to see how we react with all those fans in the stands even though it will only be on one side of the field because of construction. I’m excited to see the crowd and Pirate Nation on Saturday, I’m looking forward to it.