Five Questions

by Eric Gilmore

As the days continue to be marked off the summer calendar, it means only one thing. Time needs to go faster. The latter part of July seems to creep with the anticipation of the new season. But with a new regime at the helm, there are still a slew of questions that need to be answered prior to opening date.

1. Which sideline will the Pirates reside on?

Skip Holtz probably hasn’t given the sideline debate much thought. Instead, he’s been spending quality time with his family before football will consume his life for the next five months. But, the head coach is ultimate decision maker who is responsible for every aspect of the team. Holtz’s answer could potentially influence season tickets, momentum of a critical game and deflecting conflicts with opponents.

Different coaches have had different opinions regarding which side they wanted their team on. Pat Dye, Ed Emory, Art Baker and Steve Logan inhabited the north stands (upper deck side) while Bill Lewis and John Thompson led their teams from the south stands (press box side).

Logan started his first season on the south stands. He changed sidelines following the 1992 season, his first as head coach. Thompson switched back to the south stands in 2003.

The two schools of thought have advantages and disadvantages. Holtz will have to weigh his options to decide which choice works best for him and his team.

South stands
Weather becomes the prevailing factor in favor of the south stands. Teams on the north stands have to deal with the brutal setting sun in the afternoon games. There is an approximate 10 degree difference between the sun and the shade inside Dowdy-Ficklen. A difference of 10 degrees over a course of three hours will take their toll on players who are sweating in heavy pads. The Pirates however could conserve their energy by being in the shade.

The south stands allow for a smoother transition for the entrance. Both teams would be closer to their respective locker rooms. Also, it would be quieter for players to meet with coaches to discuss strategy.

The students would be busy heckling the opponents. A voice aimed at a player has to carry so far that students end up yelling obscenities that nearby fans can easily overhear. While not all students are busying berating the opposing team, a few can ruin the fun for the entire group.

Over the years, it has caused some funny banter between the student section and opposing players. But, with Terry Holland trying to create an enjoyable environment for the opponents, it might cause more problems than anything else.

It didn’t make for a good situation when UNC players were taunting students in 2003. A select few retaliated by throwing objects near the opposing bench. The same situation has happened more dramatically at other places including N.C. State and West Virginia.

North stands
Energy is the main reason why the Pirates chose the north sideline for most of the 1990s. Instead of having the students and rabid alumni rooting against the opponents, they root for the Pirates.

The students and marching band can ignite spurts and sometimes even helped to change the momentum of the game. An enthused student section energizes the team. When the players need a boost on a third-down play, they wave their arms towards the north stands. All the bench players would have to do is turn around rather than attempting to conjure up fan support from 50 yards away. But the same goes for the students. The team needs to do something to keep the students involved.

However, the entire team would be staring into the sun for the majority of the game. With only two night games this year, the sun be a factor when it beams directly into the north stands

Will Holtz try to employ something similar to Thompson’s version of the Pirate Walk? The tradition is so popular at other schools never caught on under Thompson. Maybe Holtz can implement his own version.

2. Will the academic problems finally be resolved?

It seems like the Pirates would be better off in a classroom than a practice field. It would be the fastest way for improvement. Josh Chilsom, Guy Whimper, JJ Millbrook, Jamar Bryant, James Pinkney, Quentin Cotton, and Marcus Hands all have the common academic thread among them.

Millbrook, Cotton and Hands all sat out last season along with Brandon Setzer in order to gain the grades possible for eligibility. Most, if not all, appear to be on track to qualify. All are potential starters for the upcoming season.

Chilsom, Whimper and Pinkney are all still uncertain about their academic eligibility. All were once starters and had to take at least a semester off in order to restore order in their lives. Whimper has beefed up his 6’5” frame in order to make the adjustment to offensive line. Whimper’s height could possibly bump the shorter Chris Sellars to offensive guard instead of tackle.

Jamar Bryant did not want to deal with Georgia’s admission office and elected to become a Pirate instead. Bryant did make qualifying scores and should be eligible this season. However, signed recruits such as CJ Wilson will probably attend prep school because of academic issues.

3. Who are going to be the captains?

Last season, Thompson let the players vote from game to game who the captains would be. Former underclassmen such as Chris Moore, Ryan Dougherty, Richard Koonce and James Pinkney often surfaced.

This year, Holtz has not publicly named how he will yield the captain duties. Through spring ball, Holtz reiterated the importance of the seniors especially for leadership. The seniors have stepped up to define what type of team they expect the 2005 version to be.

They collectively set lofty goals of becoming Conference USA champions, state champions and BCS champions. None seem likely to prognosticators, but the seniors don’t care about probabilities.

Defensively, Chris Moore has earned respect from his teammates through his work ethic. The same goes for Jamar Flournoy and Richard Koonce. However, the most vocal leader on defense is Lorenza Pickett. As the ultimate team player, he would be well served to be a permanent defensive captain.

Offensively, an eligible James Pinkney is a leader. Other players such as Jermarcus Veal, Eric Graham and Chris Sellars have asserted themselves. Though, offensive guard Gary Freeman might be the best fit for offensive captain.

4. Who is going to be the starting quarterback?

Even if James Pinkney becomes eligible, there is no certainty that he instantly becomes the starting quarterback. Holtz tried really hard to name Davon Drew the starter in the spring, but he left the door open. Instead, Holtz has said that he will continue to evaluate.

The continued evaluation doesn’t bode well for Drew, who is suited nicely for the new offense. His athletic ability gives him an advantage over the other candidates. However, Drew’s decision making and accuracy must improve for him to be the starter.

James Pinkney undoubtedly has the most experience. His uphill battle academically makes him the sentimental favorite among the fans. However, Pinkney didn’t experience spring ball and his decision making was questioned at times. In Holtz’s offense, Pinkney will have to make quicker decisions and be more mobile than last year.

The other Pinkney, Patrick, is the most intriguing prospect. Pinkney dazzled the previous coaches last fall and also in the JV game. However, Holtz and his staff have not seen the younger Pinkney at full speed due to his prolonged shoulder injury. Pinkney is now fully recovered and should be back to the form that nearly shot him up to second on last year’s depth chart as a true freshman.

A combination of either Robert Kass or Brett Clay starting remains very unlikely. Both are very raw and aren’t used to the speed of the college game. But, the advantage both have is that they have five years of eligibility left. Also, unlike the others, they were recruited by Holtz.

5. What will the Pirates do on the first coin toss?

Hopefully, the Holtz era will not begin as Thompson’s second year did. Knowing Holtz and his attacking style, if the Pirates were to win the toss, there is little doubt that he would take the ball. A scoring drive on the first possession could set the tone for the entire season. However, with a 1 pm kickoff, the sun will play a factor and the Pirates just might want to showcase a defense with nine starters returning.

Eric Gilmore