ECU big boys face big test

Published 8:49 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2011

GREENVILLE — They have had an entire fall camp to prepare, but trying to simulate the likes of what they will face on Saturday is just impossible.
When the Pirates open up the season against No. 12 South Carolina the focus will be up front where a relatively inexperienced offensive line will clash against one of the most dominant front fours in the nation.
The Gamecocks, who went 9-5 last season and won their first-ever SEC East crown, will attack behind a defensive line that features junior all-SEC defensive end Devin Taylor, who recorded 7.5 sacks last year, 6-4, 303-pound senior DT Travian Roberson, 6-3, 276-pound junior DT Aldrick Fordham and senior DE Melvin Ingram, who led the team with 9.5 sacks in 2010. And, in case you haven’t heard, there is a 6-6, 254-pound true freshman named Jadeveon Clowney who might be pretty good.
Charged with keeping that group away from quarterback Dominique Davis is an offensive line that has potential, but only brings back two starters in RT Grant Harner and C Doug Polochak.
Harner, a 6-6, 287-pound sophomore started every game last season except one, while Polochak, a 6-4, 303-pound senior started the last three games of the year at left guard. Joining Harner and Polochak up front is the big, but untested trio of 6-3, 290-pound sophomore LT Jordan Davis, 6-5, 319-pound sophomore LG Adhem Elsawi and 6-5, 310-pound sophomore RG Will Simmons.
“I feel good about your O-line,” East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “We have some young guys who have really come in the mix. Even though a lot of them didn’t play last year they had a chance to watch and learn and they had a chance to really grow and mature and get the reps behind the scenes that nobody really saw.
“In a way, we are really inexperienced but it’s not something I really worry about because I know the work ethic we have there and the talent we have there and I will be really excited to how well those guys play. We’re playing a good D-line, it will be a good test for us and I’m looking forward to it.”
Injuries to centers Mack Helms (concussion) and Drew Gentry (knee) have forced Polochak to slide from left guard to center. Though he has never started at center, head coach Ruffin McNeill and Riley feel comfortable with Polochak hiking the ball.
“Last year he backed up center in practice and played left guard in games,” Riley said. “Right now he’s been the best center, and Hugh (Parker) is right neck-and-neck with him and we would have no problem putting him in the game. But, Polochak has been the best center these last few weeks.”
Polochak could very well stay at center this season, especially if the mammoth Elsawi continues to impress and can hold on to his starting left guard position.
“We feel he can, he brings that physical presence there and gives us some size there,” Riley said. “He’s a big boy and can move around and he has picked things up very quick.”
Riley said there is a lot to like about Elsawi.
“He transferred from Campbell, he’s a big kid and a really smart kid and a very athletic kid,” Riley said. “He came in as a walk-on and we put him on scholarship this fall when we could tell he was going to be in the mix. He’s a great student, great person and great human being. He’s very, very talented and he’s very physical in there. He’s one of those guys when he came in and said he wanted to be a walk-on you’re just like, ‘Yes!’”
If the front five can play up to their potential on Saturday Pirates’ fans may be saying, “Yes!” too.