It’s steady sailing for Pirates’ O-line|Veteran unit is adjusting well to new schemes

Published 11:30 am Thursday, August 19, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — One day after taking a break from practice the Pirates went back to work on Wednesday morning as first-year coach Ruffin McNeill drilled his team on game-like situations.
“I thought practice went well. We gave them the day off yesterday, it was a little sluggish but it’s what we got to get used to on game weeks,” McNeill said. “I’m just trying to make sure this team goes through as many game situations and reps as we can before the game. During the week we have to give them a mandatory day off, but I saw some things pick up during the end of practice.”
On Wednesday McNeill noted that a depth chart could be coming soon.
“We are getting close, we still have some nicks and bruises that could be back here in a day or so, but we are getting close,” McNeill said. “We did a personnel day yesterday and we are getting close on some numbers, I’m sure pretty soon we will have it.”
Last week it was hinted that after Saturday’s scrimmage ECU may drop a QB from the race, but McNeill said it is still wide open.
“No (we haven’t eliminated anyone), we still got a great three there in Rio (Johnson), Brad (Wornick) and Dominique (Davis),” McNeill said. “They are all doing a great job and we will take our time with it. It’s a great battle and a great competition.”
One place where they battles have simmered down is in front of the quarterback, where Willie Smith (LT), Cory Dowless (LG), Will Towery ©, D.J. Scott and freshman (RT) Grant Harner have all but locked up starting roles.
The 6-6, 323-pound Scott leads ECU with 36 career starts, with 28 of them coming in a row. Dowless, who stands at 6-5, 309 pounds, is right behind him with 32 career starts, as he and Smith (6-6, 290) have both been in the starting lineup for the last 14 games.
Towery has seen his Pirates’ career slowed by injuries, but the 6-5, 3-8 junior seems primed to have a big season at center.
Joining Towery as the new guy on the line is Harner, a promising redshirt freshman. Harner’s 6-6, 323-pound frame adds beef to an already bulky offensive line.
Dowless, who started each game last year at right guard, is back to his old position of left guard and said he does not mind the position change.
“I have played left guard my first two years before switching to right, plus in spring practice I got some work at center,” Dowless said. “I have no preference, whatever is best for the team.”
The closest thing to a position battle is at right tackle, where so far Harner has held off junior Steven Baker, who at 6-8, 318 certainly looks the part of a starting college tackle.
“We are pretty much set, they have worked a lot together and we want to get the chemistry down. You don’t want to mix and match too much,” ECU offensive line coach Brandon Jones said. “If there was a position deal it would be at right tackle, but I really think Steve will play a significant amount. He has improved a lot since the spring.”
Jones said that Harner has impressed so far in camp with his attitude and hustle.
“He does a lot of good things. He is usually in a good position in pass protection,” Jones said. “Obviously he is big, he moves fairly well, but the big thing about Grant is that he plays hard every play.”
Under the new scheme, the veteran guard will be asked to do a tremendous amount of pass blocking. However, Dowless said there are some similarities between former coach Skip Holtz’s blocking schemes and the new regime.
“We throw the ball a lot more so there is a lot more pass blocking, but overall there is a lot of similarities that I can relate to,” Dowless said. “The biggest similarity is that the O-line can go out there and be physical. Whether you throw the ball 90 percent of the time or run it 90 percent of the time you can always be physical.”
Jones said that the myth that linemen in the air raid offense are not as physical as linemen in a more run-orientated offense is not true.
“It’s a common misconception, we run the ball and can come up and still be physical,” Jones said. “In pass protection we have our guys doing what I like to call head hunting, where they are trying to wack the D-linemen and it really discourages a full-out pass rush. We are still physical without a doubt.”
Aside from all the pass blocking, fans may notice that the linemen’s splits are a little wider than in a traditional offense. Jones cited that the added width helps the quarterback connect with his target easier.
“(It extends the defensive line), and creates a pocket around the quarterback and opens the throwing lanes more than anything,” Jones said.
With wider splits, it is expected that opposing defenses will try harder to rush through those gaps, but Dowless noted that he and his mates are prepared for that saying, “Yea, (defenses) will try and but we work on techniques that will help against that.”