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A four-horse race

This spring East Carolina’s Rio Johnson (above) is locked a four-man race for the starting quarterback position with Brad Wornick, Shane Carden and Cody Keith. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — It’s derby time in Greenville as the Pirates are in the midst of a four-horse race to the top of the depth chart at the quarterback position.
On Monday, the horn sounded and the gates were lifted allowing Rio Johnson, Brad Wornick, Shane Carden and Cody Keith to gallop out on to the field and into action during the team’s first official practice of the spring.
This year’s race promises to be an exciting one as it features one player from each class. Johnson, last year’s No. 2 QB, is a junior, Wornick, the 2010 backup is a senior, while Carden is a sophomore and Keith is a freshman.
Of the quartet, Wornick is the most experienced as he has participated in five games and completed 13 of his 19 pass attempts for138 yards and one score. Johnson has seen action in four games during his career and has hit of 20 of his 29 attempts for 157 yards and one interception. Both Carden and Keith have yet to see any official game action.
Due to their experience and age, it would be easy to assume that Johnson and Wornick have an early lead on the competition, but on Saturday ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said that is not the case.
“It’s wide open. It is. It’s really wide open,” Riley said. “We recruit guys that are better than what we have. While the younger guys may be a little bit behind on experience and don’t have as many reps, they also have a lot of talent too. They’re making a lot of plays.
“We’ll kind of see how it goes. I’m not going to put a calendar on it. When I se some separation I’ll adjust the reps accordingly. … It is no doubt a four-man race.”
In 2010 Wornick was able to beat out Johnson for the No. 2 spot behind Dominique Davis. Last year Johnson returned the favor as he was able to rise above Wornick to lay claim to the second spot on the depth chart. Despite last season’s success Johnson has not been given any extra entitlement in practice.
“Coach Riley told us everybody is going to get a fair shot,” Johnson said. “He’s got us on a rotation where everyone gets a fair number of reps.”
Though the snaps have been divvied out equally there is no way for Carden and Keith to simulate the real game experience that both Johnson and Wornick have.
“It helps just with confidence,” Wornick said. “It helps to know that you have done that before, you have been in that live heat of a game and you just take that nervousness and put turn it into a calmness.”
Age is an intriguing factor in this race, as some coaches will automatically defer to the elder players while others would prefer to invest their time in a player that could potentially start for the next two or three years. However, Riley said he will not discriminate one way or the other.
“This business is ‘what have you done for me lately,’ people don’t really care what you did the year before, and not just people on the outside, we’re like that too,” Riley said. “The guy that helps us win is who we’re going to play.
“We had a four-year stretch at Texas Tech where we started a fifth-year senior four years in a row and we were pretty decent all those years. I think you can get caught up in some stuff that looks good on paper but there’s no substitute for winning right now, especially for all your seniors. It just wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”
The picture is expected to become a little bit clearer over the next few weeks as ECU will hold two scrimmages before its annual Purple and Gold game on April 14. After that, the Pirates coaching staff will further evaluate film of each passer’s performance and form a more concrete depth chart to heading into the summer.