Lacking punch

Published 8:03 pm Saturday, April 16, 2011

East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley (center) directs quarterbacks Shane Carden (front, left), Dominique Davis (front, right), Brad Wornick (9) and Rio Johnson (7) during a drill before team’s first spring scrimmage. On Saturday, the Pirates gave Johnson and Carden a majority of the snaps during the team’s Purple and Gold game as they battle to win the No. 3 QB spot behind Davis and Wornick, respectively. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — Warm temperatures and an overcast sky set the stage for a Purple and Gold game where East Carolina’s offense was not anywhere near as threatening as the wind.

On Saturday, the Pirates spring game was set up as more of an offense versus defense scrimmage that featured two touchdowns on 17 possessions.

Returning starting quarter Dominique Davis played in the first offensive series and led his team on a 65-yard scoring drive that ended with an three-yard touchdown pass to Joe Womack in the back of the end zone. Davis connected on all four of his pass attempts for 29 yards.

That would be Davis’ last series as East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill largely played potential third-string quarterbacks Rio Johnson (sophomore) and Shane Carden (redshirt freshman). With junior quarterback Brad Wornick having a firm grasp on the No. 2 spot, Johnson and Carden figure to battle it out for third on the depth chart, along with true freshman Cody Keith.

Johnson led all passers with 111 yards and one score as he hit on 10 of his 18 pass attempts, while Carden went 12-for-21 for 69 yards.

With the backup signal-callers getting a majority of the repetitions, it was increasingly difficult to gauge the Pirates new-look 3-4 defense.

However, the unit did what it was supposed to do against the reserves as it limited the offense to only two scores.

“It was a good day. We had a plan for Dominique to get him in and out with a scoring drive and he did that. Then we got to take a look at Shane, Brad and Rio and we did that,” McNeill said. “I was pleased with our execution. Defensively we did a good job. We are missing some guys other there that will help us … But I thought we did a good job.”

The Pirates finished 6-7 last season and lost 51-20 to Maryland in the Military Bowl. Defense was an issue all last season as the team finished 120th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense (478.8 ypg). With that in mind, all eyes were on defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell’s unit as the team continues to undergo its transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

Freshman linebacker Jeremy Grove led all players with seven tackles, as fellow freshman corner Lamar Ivey added six. Sophomore defensive end Derrell Johnson was a force up front as he tallied two tackles for a loss and two sacks.

“I told my guys four things: Make sure we communicate on the football field. Make sure we are assignment sound. Make sure we don’t give up any big plays and make sure we don’t miss any tackles,” Mitchell said. “That’s the only thing I gave those guys to do today and I thought they did a good job of it.”

On Saturday the Pirates defense ran a scaled down version of their system and Mitchell said he is trying to not overload his players too early.

���We probably had way too much in last year at this point in time,” Mitchell said. “Looking back our personnel didn’t fit the 4-3 and now we have guys on two legs that can make more plays than a down lineman on the football field … If you don’t inundate them with too much I think our kids will play much faster.”

On the other side of the ball, East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley wasn’t too concerned about the lack of production from his unit.

“I don’t think it’s a good representation of just how well the spring went,” Riley said. “I don’t worry about spring games very much. I think they are overrated. I think it’s just another practice.”

Riley said he wasn’t thrilled with the play of quarterback’s Johnson and Carden, but felt they ended the scrimmage on a positive note.

“They have played well. They didn’t play as well today, but I was happy with Rio for getting us a score late,” Riley said. “When things didn’t go their way I didn’t think they did a great job of leading the group and hung their heads … But I liked the end of the scrimmage, after I nicely reminded them to (not hang their heads), They played with more confidence.”

Reese Wiggins (4-38, TD), Justin Hardy (4-35) and Danny Webster (6-24) led the receiving corps.

Sophomore running back Michael Dobson put on a strong performance as he led all rushers with 80 yards on 16 carries.

One area of concern was at the center position where ECU is without returning starter Dalton Faulds (knee) redshirt freshman Drew Gentry and senior Hugh Parker. Doug Polochak, who played guard last year, played center on Saturday.