Off to a good start

Published 10:12 pm Saturday, April 2, 2011

East Carolina running back Alex Owah (with ball) plunges across the goal line to score a touchdown on the first possession of the Pirates spring scrimmage on Saturday inside Dowdly-Ficklen Stadium. Owah had seven carries for 76 yards. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — The Pirates held their first dress rehearsal of the spring on Saturday as the team ran a 108-play scrimmage under game-like conditions which included pumped in crowd noise.

Under a clear and sunny sky, the scrimmage provided an opportunity for veterans to shake off some rust while also giving younger players a chance to make a name for themselves.

After the scrimmage, East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said he was happy with what he saw.

“I was pleased with the first scrimmage … There are always going to be a lot of first scrimmage items that happen like (incorrect) alignment things that we can correct … but I was very pleased with how the first scrimmage came out,” McNeill said. “We executed really well on offense, and at times and I saw some really good things happen on defense too.”

In a team’s first scrimmage penalties tend to be an issue, but on Saturday the Pirates did a good job of making the officials keep their flags in their pockets.

“The penalties I thought was good for the first time out,” McNeill said. “I think we had three č which is three too many in mind č but for a first scrimmage I’m very pleased with that.”

East Carolina’s new-look 3-4 defense had a strong first showing as it forced four fumbles and recovered two of them, while intercepting four passes.

“I saw some turnovers, which we want to get on defense, but on offense we want to take care of the ball,” McNeill said. “It’s sort of a tough position to be in but still it was good to see the defense come up with some turnovers. I know (offensive coordinator) Lincoln (Riley) will address it with the offense.”

The Pirates enter this spring having switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 alignment and McNeill said so far the team has handled the transition well.

“I’m pleased with the progress. It will take time but the guys are catching on to it,” McNeill said. “The guys are picking it up.”

Linebacker Ty Holmes led the team with eight tackles, while safety Bradley Jacobs, who is recovering from knee surgery, added seven stops and a forced fumble.

McNeill and defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell have been extra careful to not overload the players early by implementing the playbook too quickly. On Saturday the team played a very elementary version of their new defense.

“We are really not very far (into the playbook). I think Brian took about three or four calls into today and about one or two blitz (packages) into the game,” McNeill said. “It’s primarily a base day for them. When we made the move we planed it that way, we wanted the first two weeks to stay in base. The expansion is what will come now. We will watch film today and if we have to stay in base then we will … We will move at our players’ pace.”

Mitchell, who estimated his team blitzed about 30 percent of the time on Saturday, was encouraged by his team’s ability to create five turnovers out of a mostly base defense, but said he wants to see better fundamental play.

“I’m excited about (the turnovers), now I want to see them (sure up) on the routine plays,” Mitchell said. “If the ball bounces outside I want to have a player force it back inside to 10 other players. Or, if the ball cuts back I want to have a backside player that is keeping the ball on his inside shoulder.”

Also handling a transition well is Torrance Hunt, who has switched from wide receiver to running back during the offseason and turned in a solid performance as he rushed eight times for a team-high 88 yards. Hunt got 49 of those yards on a TD run.

All five of East Carolina’s quarterbacks played on Saturday and teamed up to go 50-74 for 496 yards. Redshirt freshman Shane Carden led all passers as he connected on 12 of his 16 pass attempts for 166 yards.

Returning starter Dominique Davis went 13-for-18 for 131 yards and two TDs.

Wideout Michael Bowman’s eight catches (47 yards) was the most on Saturday, while Reese Wiggens 82 receiving yards led all receives. Wiggins caught three passes, one of which a 70-yard touchdown.

“All the quarterbacks did a great job today, Dominique, Brad (Wornick), Shane, Cody (Keith) and Rio (Johnson),” McNeill said. “I’m pleased with the offensive progress and the entire team right now.”

The Pirates played the scrimmage without centers Mack Helms (shoulder) and Daulton Fields (shoulder), and on Saturday that position took another blow as Drew Gentry injured his knee and did not return to the scrimmage. Also sustaining a knee injury was DT Leroy Vick.

Spring scrimmage stats

RUSHING: Torrance Hunt (8-88, 1 TD), Alex Owah (7-76, 1 TD), Michael Dobson (10-33), John Barnes-Smith (2-11), Dominique Davis (2-9), Shane Carden (1-0), Rio Johnson (1-<-9>), Brad Wornick (3-<-29>). Totals ąą 34-179 (5.3 ypr), 2 TD.

PASSING: Shane Carden (16-12-1, 166 yards, 2 TD), Dominique Davis (18-13-1, 131 yards, 2 TD), Rio Johnson (18-12-1, 82 yards, 1 TD), Brad Wornick (14-7-1, 68 yards), Cody Keith (8-6-0, 49 yards). Totals ąą 74-50-4, 496 yards, 5 TD (67.6%).

RECEIVING: Reese Wiggins (3-82, 1 TD), Danny Webster (5-48, 1 TD), Michael Bowman (8-47), Justin Jones (4-46, 2 TD), Justin Hardy (3-46), Lance Lewis (5-41), Michael Dobson (3-28), Andrew Bodenheimer (2-28), Derrick Harris (3-23), John Barnes-Smith (3-23), Dayon Arrington (2-19, 1 TD), Zico Pasut (1-16), Torian Richardson (3-14), Brandon Weymann (1-9), Jeremy Davis (1-8), Torrance Hunt (1-7), Alex Owah (1-6), Joe Womack (1-5). Totals ąą 50-496, 5 TD

TACKLES: Ty Holmes 8 (PB), Bradley Jacobs 7 (2 PB, FF), Derek Blacknall 7 (INT, PB), Kyle Tudor 6, Jacob Geary 5, Emanuel Davis 4, Jeremy Grove 4 (INT), Lamar Ivey 3 (INT, 2 PB), Lamar McLendon 3 (PB), Cliff Perryman 3, Terry Biles 2 (2 FR), James Craig 2, Damon Magazu 2, Matt Milner 2, Leonard Paulk 2, Lee Pegues 2, Leroy Vick 2, Bill Wallace 2, Terry Williams 2, Antonio Allison 1 (TFL, sack/-14 yards), Maurice Falls 1 (TFL, sack/-8 yards), Justin Venable 1 (INT), Jimmy Booth 1 (PB), Desi Brown 1, Robert Huckabee 1, Jacobi Jenkins 1, John Moody 1, Kris Sykes 1.