Pirates hold first practice

Published 9:07 pm Friday, August 3, 2012

East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill (center) huddles with his team at the start of the Pirates first official practice on Friday at East Carolina University. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — It’s been three months since East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill last worked his team out but on Friday the long wait came to and end as the Pirates conducted their first official team practice of the preseason.
“I think every head coach in the country welcomes this day,” McNeill said. “The rules handcuff us a little bit with not being able to be around your team on the field or watch them workout in the summer, so to get them on the field is really big for me.
“I love this game and I love being able to coach it at this great university, to have a chance to get around the kids is fantastic.”
Last season East Carolina finished with 5-7 (4-4, C-USA) record and the Pirates will be forced to improve on that this season without an established quarterback, as McNeill must find a replacement for the departed Dominique Davis.
Vying for the vacant QB spot will be senior Brad Wornick, junior Rio Johnson, sophomore Shane Carden and freshman Cody Keith. Of the quartet, Johnson is the frontrunner right with Carden, who returned to practice after breaking his index finger in the spring, right behind him.
“I like all four of them,” McNeill said. “Shane was back today and it was good to see him back after the injury. Rio did a good job and was solid there. Brad came in and was usual Brad and Cody the gunslinger did a good job too.”
McNeill said there is no established timetable to pick a starting QB and is looking to see which player is the most well rounded.
“We talked about it yesterday, it will be the guy who makes the best decisions and can move the chains,” McNeill said. “In this offense we throw the football so we can’t have a guy who’s scared to make mistakes, but the guy who makes the least amount of mistakes will be our guy.”
Aside from the QB spot, the Pirates will have position battles up and down the lineup with the most notable being at running back and in the secondary.
“The lines will be long at some positions, running back for example, quarterback, wide receivers, DBs and linebacker,” McNeill said. “Really, at all positions those guys better be ready to compete and play at his best everyday or the guy behind him could really move past him.”
While most of McNeill’s roster was present of Friday, freshman S/CB Lucas Thompson, the jewel of ECU 2012 recruiting class was not.
“He is not in yet and we are still waiting on him, (JUCO transfer WR) Lance Ray as well and (JUCO transfer LB) Gabe Woullard,” McNeill said. “They are finishing some classes from summer school.”
McNeill said he still expects them to make the team’s camp.
The Pirates’ third-year coach said right now his main concern building up each unit.
“We want to continue to develop depth. That’s big for us,” McNeill said. “We want to establish starting positions with the main one being at quarterback, but some other positions as well. We just want to keep improving.”
East Carolina will begin its season on Sept. 1 at home against Appalachian State.