Size Matters!
by Josh Spence

There are plenty of stories to follow this week, as East Carolina gets set to kick off the 2006 season against Navy on Saturday.  It’s Skip Holtz's second year, and the first ever match-up between ECU and Navy on the gridiron. There are new recruits, injuries, the stories seem endless. However, as far as the outcome of this weekend's ball game, size may be the biggest story.

It has become common knowledge that athletes at the service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force) are generally smaller.  For coaches at these academies, the recruiting base is smaller, thanks in large part to that whole military service idea that comes along with attending such an academy.  Often, the players that are interested are undersized by current Division 1-A standards, and the coaches understand that comes with the territory.  They also understand that they get more disciplined, dedicated players in return. 

For East Carolina, this Saturday's match-up presents a rare size advantage.  Over the last several years, the Pirates have had to battle to overcome their size deficiency. On Saturday, it will be just the opposite.

Under fifth-year head coach Paul Johnson, the Midshipmen of Navy have perfected the art of playing small.  Johnson is known for his spread option running attack, and Johnson’s Navy teams have led the country in rushing, in two of the last three years.  The Mids have not been ranked lower than third in the country during the Johnson era.  Navy is 26-11 over the last three years, making three straight bowl games (won two) after going 3-30 in the previous three seasons. 

The Midshipmen have also become known for a swarming defense. It’s not uncommon for Navy to play a 3-4 defense in an attempt to neutralize their size disadvantage.  This gets some quicker, more agile, players on the field, and allows the Mids to utilize a speed advantage. 

So, how do the Pirates take advantage of their size advantage?  Senior offensive lineman Josh Coffman thinks it lies in fundamentals.  “Despite us having the size advantage, they have the leverage advantage.  We have to get our pads under theirs even though we're bigger, everyday we work on getting our pads low, and trying to be technically sound.”

Coach Skip Holtz has spent two weeks trying to get his team ready for Navy, but even he still has concerns.  “They do a great job of trying to neautralize their weaknesses which is their size.  They don’t stay up high and block you, they're going to cut you, their going to get at your knees and your ankles and roll around on the ground, and try and tie you up and occupy you with what they do.”  So what do you do to try and counter that?  “You’ve got to work on it, it’s very hard to simulate. There’s no secret formula to say well this is how you negate it, you do this.  You just have to make sure you solidify your ends and try and put a hat on a hat and try and move the ball” said Holtz. 

ECU kicks off the ’06 season this Saturday in Annapolis, Md.  The Pirates hope the scout team has put together a close-enough impression of the speed at which Navy attacks.  Of all the stories we will follow this weekend, the size difference is definitely the biggest!.

Josh Spence