Position battles continue for Pirates|Players prepare for scrimmage

Published 10:23 am Friday, August 13, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — As the Pirates creep closer to their Saturday scrimmage the position battles are heating up at camp.
East Carolina returns nine starters from a year ago, with only two of them coming back on the defensive side in corners Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons. Returning on the other side of the ball are guards D.J. Scott Cory Dowless, along with tackle Willie Smith and WR Dwayne Harris.
The most notable position battle of course is at quarterback, where Brad Wornick, Dominique Davis and Rio Johnson are all competing for the starting spot. Freshmen Shane Carden and Zack Illing are also fighting for the job but appear to be a notch below the others.
Defensively, just about all the positions are up for grabs except at cornerback, though Derek Blacknall and Bradley Jacobs appear to have a firm grip on the safety positions. Sophomore safety Jack Schultz, who was behind Jacobs on the post-spring game depth chart, has left the team for personal reasons.
The team should have a clearer picture of their position battles on Saturday after the scrimmage (3:15 p.m. – 6 p.m.), but for now it’s been a daily battle at practice. ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said he has started to see some players separate themselves from their competition, but noted that he will not rush to judgment.
“We still have time, I’m going to be very patient on that and very methodical,” McNeill said. “We have time. I like the competition, and the competition will go on throughout the year. … We want to make sure we have a guy pushing each guy. The biggest thing is competition, so no one is able to sit back and think entitlement.”
There is definitely no sense of entitlement at the QB spot where every one of the top contenders has taking first-team snaps during offense versus team defense battles in practice.
“We are all rolling right now, so maybe one day I will be with the ones and the next day Rio or Dominique will be with the ones,” said Wornick, who emerged from the Purple and Gold game on top of the depth chart. “After the first scrimmage (offensive coordinator) Lincoln Riley has already laid it out on the table to us that he is going to cut one of us off soon after the scrimmage. After that, two guys will be splitting reps and one will emerge from that.”
Riley has been working hard to get the players up to par. Thursday morning the wide receivers got off to a slow start and Riley held the group after practice to run them through some extra drills.
“We kind of started off slow, us and the receivers,” Wornick said. “So that’s why we were doing some extra catching drills. We had a few dropped balls today, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. … We just needed a little extra work.”
McNeill said he has happy with the overall effort, and noted that the team has gotten better at mentally moving on after plays.
“We had a good day, practice went well,” McNeill said. “There is some ebb-and-flow to practice and I was pleased the guys. They had a tough time playing the next play. Whether it is a good play or a bad play I just want them to play the next play. We talked about that a lot last night, but I thought the guys did a good job of that today.”
McNeill, who doesn’t like to single out individually efforts, was pleased with the play of some of the more under-the-radar-type players.
“(Inside receiver Michael) Bowman has done a good job catching the football. I thought he has done a good job of catching the football,” McNeill said. “And (linebacker turned defensive end) Justin Dixon did some special things yesterday and he has a chance to help us there. Those two guys have stepped up, but as a whole the group has done a good job.”