“Pads Popping” -  A Right of Spring Passage at ECU
by Allen Thomas

“Crack!”  The loud sound echoes across the field as two large figures dressed in purple make sudden impact with a figure in white… abruptly separating him from the football …. and his helmet. “Get up, pick up your pieces and GET back in the huddle!” the coach barks. Then the sound of a loud megaphone, “Okay, session 17, session 17!” Coach Skip Holtz shouts, as dozens of ball players spring into action shuffling briskly to individual position drills.  Watching a spring practice of Coach Holtz’s you get the distinct impression of what the inside of a Swiss clock must look like.  There is a precision to every movement and efficiency to each step.  You also get the sense of a guy who couldn’t be happier finally being the guy in charge of his team beginning his journey.

It’s spring football time in Greenville, North Carolina and this spring brings a new era.  There’s nothing like the sights, smells and sounds on the gridiron as the next generation of Pirates athletes seek to make their mark, beginning their journey into ECU football 2005.  

This spring marks a next step not only for young football players but also for ECU athletics. What a difference a year makes.  From Mike Hamrick to Terry Holland, from John Thompson to Skip Holtz, from Bill Herrion to Ricky Stokes. It’s been a year of drastic change and what many will argue as a significant upgrade in our commitment to athletic excellence.  There’s no clearer impression of this than looking at the football staff assembled mid-field of Dowdy-Ficklen leading spring practice.

As I watch the coaching staff execute drills on a spring afternoon led by Skip Holtz it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future of ECU football.  There’s defensive line coach Donnie Thompson wheeling a young defensive lineman by his shoulder pads letting him know in no uncertain terms, “This is your gap. Explode through that hole. This is where you are supposed to be!”  There’s the sound of Coach Shank giving his offensive tackle a clear message, “you have to pick up that linebacker and protect the quarterback!” There are many new faces in many new places as the coaching staff works hard to install the basics, teaching the fundamentals of their system for ECU football 2005.

When you watch Coach Holtz’s staff on its maiden voyage on the Pirate ship you get the impression the pieces are coming together.  You also get the impression, just as with an old puzzle kept on the top of a dusty shelf, the coaching staff continues to put this puzzle together working their way around missing pieces.

On offense the skill positions return a great deal of talent while quarterback and offensive line present questions.  With no quarterback on the roster with game experience who will emerge?  Promising talent Patrick Pinkney continues to work through his rehab taking snaps in his yellow jersey- but out of the true rotation.  Devon Drew, Kort Shankweiler and others see this spring as their opportunity to get reps and impress. James Pinkney remains out of sight out of mind for Holtz and crew but the thought remains in the back of everyone’s mind, will James find a way to make it back this fall?  Word is, it’s up to James to take care of his responsibilities this summer and earn his way back into purple and gold.  The expectations are realistic and if James steps up, Holtz’s staff will get it’s first significant victory before even stepping on the field this fall.  I’m pulling for James but Coach Holtz’s approach is a lesson in realism.  “You can’t make plays if you aren’t on the field.”  Quarterback expectations will remain among the guys taking snaps this spring with a hopeful eye towards developments this fall.

On the defense side Coordinator Greg Hudson began with an analysis of talent and has taken the approach of putting players at their natural positions.  Last year’s defensive unit saw linebackers playing defensive line and defensive backs at linebacker.  Pirate football 2005 brings Jamar Flournoy back to safety and Richard Koonce to his natural position at linebacker.  If there’s one thing that can be said about Hudson defenses- he will create a collision point up front which will cause opposing teams difficulties in the running game.  Look for the defensive approach to create pressure up front with a mix of coverages to disguise and protect a defensive backfield as it continues to develop.

All said, it will be an exciting spring of football at ECU as a new era brings optimism.  If precision of coaching and experience account for anything we are on the right track returning ECU football to higher expectations.   Here’s to Coach Holtz finding all the pieces to his puzzle and moving the program towards bigger and better things in 2005.

Allen Thomas