McNeill moving like a ‘ninja’ at first practice

Published 8:15 pm Friday, August 5, 2011

GREENVILLE — He moved like a ninja. That’s the way sophomore defensive end/linebacker Justin Dixon described East Carolina second-year coach Ruffin McNeill during the team’s first official practice of the 2011 season on Friday.
McNeill, who had bariatric surgery in January and hip surgery in April, was using a golf cart to get around during the spring game. On Friday, McNeill was minus the cart, which allowed him to wander around the practice field without giving away his presence.
“The kids couldn’t hear me come up on them, I was like a ninja. That’s what Justin Dixon said,” McNeill said.
While McNeill, who is still not at 100 percent, improved his tempo, so did the team. Last year the coach and his staff harped on the team to pick up its pace in practice, but on Friday he seemed pleased.
“It was ok and it will improve each day. Offensively, the tempo was great. All our quarterbacks have been exposed to the offense … and it should be faster, I’m expecting it to be faster,” McNeill said. “Defensively, I thought we picked up very well from where we left off in the spring.”
After finishing 6-7 last year, and making it to the Military Bowl where the Pirates fell to Maryland, ECU changed its defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4. McNeill said so far that transition is going well.
“I thought the walk through went well this morning after their conditioning tests. The kids really picked up where we left off with installation, schematically as well as fundamentally.”
While the players have been working towards improvement since the Purple and Gold game on April 16, so has the coaching staff.
“Recruiting goes on after (the spring game) and offseason preparation goes on during that time. Film study, I assign projects to each group: offense, defense and special teams,” McNeill said. “The coordinators, Lincoln (Riley/offense) and Brian (Mitchell/defense) have projects they want their guys to do. It’s a lot of film study and projects, whether it be offensively, maybe a different way to block a play or blitz, or on defense, watching a different formation or in the red zone.
“In the summer, (strength and conditioning coach) Jeff Conners and his staff takes over, we are not allowed to be near the team NCAA-wise. The keys to the team go in Jeff Conners hands and I have the upmost confidence in those guys. He turned them over to me last night … and I love what I got back.”
McNeill also got back six starters from an offense that basically re-wrote the school’s record books as returning senior quarterback Dominique Davis helped the team set 15 new school marks.
Defensively, ECU set some new standards too, although not the kind it would like to be remembered for. The Pirates finished last in the FBS in total defense and bring back seven starters.
That defensive suffered a slew of injuries in 2010, but the good news is that the team appears healthy at the start of camp.
“Everybody did pretty good. We had Demonte Terry (RB) go down for a bit, but he’ll be ok. We just held him out for precautionary reasons. But that was it,” McNeill said. “Michael Jenkins (a walk-on freshman OL) is still trying to get in condition, but he’ll be ok.”