Fall Camp is a
Remedy for Inexperience

by Eric Gilmore

A slimmer Skip Holtz beaded sweat when running off the practice field for the second time on Wednesday afternoon. He had concluded the first of three two-a-day sessions and the second two-and-a-half hour practice in pads on Day 6 of fall camp. He bounded over to reporters with a youthful glide and even smiled while he was prepped with a wireless mic. “I’m getting better at his,” Holtz responded generically.

Holtz may have been referring to his on-camera presence, something his father displays at ESPN on a national stage. Or his ability to comfortably prep for a close-up shot as his team exits the Cliff Moore Practice Facility. Maybe the second-year ECU head coach was referencing his improving relationship with the media. Heck, Holtz could have been referring to his ability to coach, which could possibly coincide with the team’s improved talent level. What is known is that Holtz’s short statement was ambiguous.

It could be a season slogan. Insert Holtz’ team concept by replacing ‘I’m’ with ‘we’re’ and you could find 2006’s theme. ‘We’re getting better…’ is a cliché, but it certainly fits the bill. It encompasses the John Thompson era, rock-bottom for a once-proud program, while still allowing area for improvement. It also emits a positive tone, something Holtz has branded since his arrival.

"There is a lot more athleticism on this team than we had a year ago,” said Holtz, after Day 6. “But I keep saying that we’re a long way from being a good football team too. When you look at the inexperienced players, they’re still learning what to do. But at the same time, after putting pads on, I don’t think they’re afraid to stick their nose in there.”

If the depth chart is any indication, Holtz knows that he will have develop the inexperience added an accelerated pace than he normally would. With talented youngsters like Scotty Robinson and C.J. Wilson at the defensive end slot, Holtz’s reliance on inexperience could determine the outcome of the season. Holtz and defensive coordinator Greg Hudson also hold the task of incorporating in six linebackers scattered among the three-deep, which have never suited in an ECU uniform.

Holtz said at the annual media day that the coaching staff will try to mask the inexperience with complex schemes. But the difference is that in 2005, Holtz was hiding the lack of talent. However, Holtz seems content with the markup in talent and seems to believe that once the inexperience bug is kicked, talent will reign supreme.

Harnessing the talent will be a difficult task as well. Jamar Bryant is one of the most talented receivers listed on the roster. However, Bryant has to become acclimated to the proper techniques while still remembering and running crisp routes. As is accustomed with first-year players, the challenge becomes the ability to retain basic knowledge, while still relying on athletic instincts. The repetition factor is the reason why the veterans have such an advantage.

Even so, recruiting coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick believes that more true freshman will be thrust into action in 2006 than did last season. In 2005, only Jerek Hewitt and Dominique Lindsay saw time a summer removed from high school, allowing the coaching staff to stockpile talent with the luxury of watching the mature.

Look at the roster and the ability to redshirt so many players in 2005 will likely pay large dividends. It allowed for astronomical weight gains under strength coach Mike Golden, while letting the player get acquainted with the drastic change that is college life. Now Jamar Bryant, Terence Campbell, Jeremy Chambliss, Scotty Robinson and C.J. Wilson, all of whom litter the two-deep, are staring at four years of eligibility. Even the non-traditional redshirts placed on Josh Coffman and Zach Slate have provided a year’s worth of adjustment to a new position.

In 2006, Norman Whitley has made such a splash early that Holtz may be hard-pressed to keep the Hamlet native off the field. Whitley doesn’t want to redshirt, but has three capable backs are ahead of him. If Holtz does decide to throw a redshirt on Whitley, he would separate his running backs in terms of years, possibly allowing Whitley to become a four-year starter. Others who have potential to suit up immediately will be D.J. Scott and Sean Allen at offensive guard along with Willie Smith at defensive end.

Despite the talent level, freshmen are still freshmen. Frustrated by parent-like attitude that he is forced to take to install a blocking scheme, offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler knows the inexperience will soon wear off.

“The mistakes we’re making is inexperience,” Shankweiler said. “The freshmen, you have to tell them what to do every play but, that’s part of it. Throw them in there and have them grow up. Every one of them I’d sign again. They’re going to be very good players.”

However, as is often the case in the recruiting crapshoot, some of the 2006 class either didn’t make it to campus or will have to wait to don an ECU jersey. According to Holtz on National Signing Day, he indicated that a couple of the signees were well aware that the 25 scholarship-per-year limit would prevent them from joining the team in fall camp. Holtz revealed on media day which signees wound up either in a grayshirt or delayed enrollment situation.

Willie Barton, who Holtz had considered to potentially crack the two-deep, expects to join the team Aug. 23. Barton is transferring from Georgia Military College and has an academic snag in order to become eligible. If he does not become eligible, he most likely will join the category containing wide receiver Javon Brumsey and defensive back Darryl Reynolds. Similar to Marcus Hands in 2004 and Jay Ross in 2005, both Brumsey and Reynolds will enroll at ECU, but will not be members of the football program. Both would still be allowed to lift with Golden, but are forbidden from attending practices and scheduled meetings. Both players could become eligible as soon as voluntary workouts commence next summer.

Late signees, defensive back Travis Simmons and wide receiver Demorio Waymon will delay their enrollment to ECU until January. Both players qualified, but in order to gain a scholarship, both likely agreed to wait a semester. Both Simmons and Waymon- like Johnnie McCoy in 2005- should be eligible for spring practice. Davion Holman and Dan Wideman appear to be academic causalities and headed to either prep school or junior college. Wideman was considered a risk upon inking with ECU while Holman’s situation remains unclear. Playing with either a prep school or junior college will open up their recruitment, making the 2006 commitment null and void.

Eric Gilmore