Offense shines in Spring Game

Published 10:26 am Monday, April 14, 2014




By Daniel Hunt

For The Washington Daily News


ECU’s full-contact, spring practice schedule came to a close Saturday with a Spring Game that featured plenty of offense, the unveiling of the Pirates’ new revamped helmet and midfield logo and even an engagement on the field at halftime.

With near perfect weather, ECU provided plenty of pregame festivities and entertainment during the game to create a fun, family atmosphere for the 5,867 Pirate fans in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. But for diehard ECU supporters, Saturday was all about football and the action provided them with a promo of what to expect come fall.

For the most part, the Pirates’ projected strengths and weaknesses held true during the scrimmage.

Offensively, star quarterback Shane Carden (15-10-0, 60 yards, 1 TD) and backup Kurt Benkert (13-9-0, 133 yards, 2 TD) had strong showings throughout the contest, getting the ball into the hands of an extremely deep and talented receiving corps.

“We knew we had plenty of weapons going into the spring,” Carden said. “If we can stay healthy and avoid off-the-field problems, this offense can be really productive.”

Former Pam Pack star Jimmy Williams showcased his speed and proved he is capable of playing a major role in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s scheme. The sophomore hauled in three catches for 54 yards and opened up scoring in the game with a 45-yard touchdown connection from Benkert. Williams also made the most of a rushing attempt, which went for 17 yards.

“It was disappointing when [Williams] got hurt last year because he came in and played so well,” Riley said. “He’s a unique player. He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands and you can’t have enough guys like that in our offense.”

“His best attribute is his ability to make people miss,” added Carden. “We gave him a couple screen passes today; he can make people miss left and right. His ability to elude defenders is very fun to watch.”

The Pirates entered spring with question marks surrounding the tailback position after the departure of back-to-back thousand-yard rusher Vintavious Cooper. The unit had an up-and-down spring, but finished strong with a productive Saturday to the tune of 7.9 yards per carry. Junior Chris Hairston led the way with six carries for 44 yards, while freshman Chris Love (71-yard touchdown run), senior Breon Allen and freshman Marquez Grayson received multiple touches as well.

“We couldn’t have done what we did today without the play of our offensive line,” said Hairston. “I congratulated every one of them after the [scrimmage]. They got better and better every day this spring.”

The run-blocking was solid, but the depleted offensive line’s first unit was shaky at times protecting Carden. Although, much of that could possibly be attributed to ECU’s deep and talented front seven on defense.

The secondary gave up its share of yardage, but considering ECU’s talent at receiver, the pass defense was decent, especially the first unit. Junior corner Josh Hawkins continued his impressive spring with five tackles on the day.

“We played pretty well,” said Hawkins. “I think we have some things we need to tighten up with the ‘twos’ and ‘threes’, but we’ll keep working.”

Head coach Ruffin McNeill and Riley both expressed that this was one of the best springs they’ve seen in their five years at ECU.

The Pirates will have a light, non-contact practice Monday before taking a few weeks off and reconvening during the first summer session.