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Rio wins starting quarterback job

On Monday East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill announced that Rio Johnson (right) would be the team’s starting quarterback on Saturday when the Pirates play their season opener against Appalachian State. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s quarterback competition raged on throughout the offseason but on Monday head coach Ruffin McNeill finally declared a winner as he tabbed junior Rio Johnson to get the start in the team’s Sept. 1 season opener at home against Appalachian State.
Johnson was the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart last season behind the departed Dominique Davis and has completed 20 of his 29 career pass attempts for 157 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.
Johnson beat out senior Brad Wornick, sophomore Shane Carden and redshirt freshman Cody Keith to get the job.
In the end it came down to Johnson versus Carden and the junior’s ability to close out camp on a high note gave him the decisive edge.
“It was really tight to be honest it with you. It was a tight race,” McNeill said Monday. “There was an even number of reps throughout camp. … In the last few days Rio stepped  forward based on the way he managed the team, but not by much. It came to a point where we had to get one guy ready … It wasn’t an easy decision.”
As of now, the plan is to play just one quarterback, but McNeill said he would mix things up if Johnson’s play dips.
“You want to stick with a starter,” McNeill said. “But, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is struggling, (we) would put the other guy in and let him go. Last year I wasn’t as comfortable doing that and I didn’t. I don’t feel that way now and neither does (offensive coordinator) Lincoln (Riley).”
At the running back spot, junior Michael Dobson rushed to the top of the depth chart ahead of senior Reggie Bullock and junior Vintavious Cooper.
The Pirates have a plethora of running backs, which also includes last year’s leading rusher Torrance Hunt, along with situational backs Zico Pasut and Hunter Furr.
East Carolina, which finished last season 5-7, ranked 105th in the nation in rushing with 109.1 yards per game and McNeill heads into this year hoping that a healthy stable of backs will boost that number.
“We got six guys and we’re going to play it by committee,” McNeill said. “Michael Dobson has had the best fall camp, but Reggie Bullock has pushed hard. … It’s a group that I like the way they have all developed and they each have specific skill sets and roles that we can play them in.”
In the defensive backfield, corners Jacobi Jenkins and junior Adonis Armstrong have locked down starting spots for the season opener, while either Lamar Ivey or Chip Thompson will start opposite returning starter Damon Magazu at safety.
The Pirates will begin the 2012 season inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at noon against an Appalachian State team that went 8-4 last year and is ranked fifth in the FCS preseason top 25 poll.
McNeill has close ties to the Mountaineers’ program as he served as the team’s linebacker’s coach from 1989-91 before becoming the defensive coordinator from1993-96.
“I came in on coach (Jerry) Moore’s first staff and he has established a program that has won three national championships and he is one of the top winningest coaches, not just in the FCS, but in all categories,” McNeill said. “He’s done a great job.”

Webster not on depth chart for Saturday
Sophomore wide receiver Danny Webster was not on the two-deep for Saturday’s season opener. Over the weekend it was reported by WITN that Webster was charged with reckless driving when he flipped his truck over after falling asleep behind the wheel at approximately 12:45 a.m. Saturday night as he was driving with a passenger in his vehicle.
Webster played in 11 games last season as a true freshman and caught 43 passes for 418 yards and one TD before hurting his knee in the second to last game of the season against Central Florida and missed the final game of the year against Marshall. It was an injury Webster rehabbed during the offseason.
“I hope to have Danny ready but we’ll see how it goes,” McNeill said. “He’s been getting some reps. He turned the car over. I’m not doing anything because of that. We’ll see how it goes.”
Webster is not listed on the team’s injury report and when asked if Webster would have been on the two-deep before the accident McNeill responded, “Yea, I hope he would if he could play. His knee is still … If you go out there and watch him he has a big brace on. He’s not (100 percent).”

ECU starts season with six on injury report
The Pirates will begin the season with six players on the injury report as CB Leonard Paulk is listed as “out” due to a knee injury, while OLB Montese Overton is slated as “probable” after sustaining a concussion. Corner Kristopher Sykes (hip) is listed as “questionable,” while OLB Chris Baker (hip), OLB Jacob Geary (leg) and DE Matt Milner are all “probable” for Saturday’s game.