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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #39 East Carolina

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 1, 2014

#39 East Carolina Pirates

 

2013 Recap:

A very successful year for East Carolina culminated with a 37-20 win in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl against Ohio. East Carolina now makes the move from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference and will hope to replicate the success of reaching double digits in wins.


Coaching:

Ruffin McNeal has been at East Carolina four years and has a 29-22 record. With another big season McNeal might land on the radar for some other schools with some higher profile positions.
 


Offense


Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Shane Carden may be the best quarterback at the college football level that the casual fan has never heard of.  Carden was the Conference USA MVP last season and will now try to win the award in the American Athletic Conference. Carden led the NCAA with a 71% completion percentage and threw for 33 touchdowns and 4,139 yards. With those kinds of numbers again we could be talking about Carden being a finalist in New York for the Heisman trophy, especially if East Carolina wins 10 games again. Carden looks like a late round pick as he tries to follow in the footsteps of other Pirate quarterbacks like Jeff Blake and David Garrard that moved onto the NFL level. The question will be whether Carden can do this type of damage with a new running back, since Vintavious Cooper is gone and trying to catch on with the Detroit Lions at the NFL level. Cooper ran for nearly 1,200 yards a year ago and the Pirates new starter is senior Breon Allen who had 311 yartds rushing and averaged 5.0 YPC a season ago. What the Pirates do not have is a running back that is a big threat catching the football out of the backfield. Junior Chris Hairston will be the change of pace back and the backup to Allen. East Carolina averaged 40.2 points per game last year and most of that begins with the quarterback and the running game.

Best Draft Prospect: Shane Carden QB 6th Round 2015.



Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

With the Pirates putting up as many points as they did during 2013 and with Carden throwing for all of those yards, you know there has to be a stud in the receiving corps and that is what Justin Hardy brings to the Pirates. Hardy set a single season East Carolina record with 114 catches and he plays much bigger than his 5'11" frame would indicate. Hardy is a legitimate NFL prospect and should be the highest Pirate selected during the 2014 NFL Draft. Hardy bounced back with a 1,284-yard performance in 2013, after having nagging injuries follow him during 2012 (even though he still had over 1,000 yard receiving in that season). Isaiah Jones is the only other receiver that is a returning starter and East Carolina employs four on the field during most formations and situations. Jones plays second fiddle but his 62 catches for over 600 yards and 5 touchdowns would make him the top target on some teams, but here he is an amazing compliment to Justin Hardy. Cam Worthy, DaQuan Barnes and Davon Grayson will be the top three options fighting over a pair of starting spots as the starts may vary from game to game.

Best Draft Prospect: Justin Hardy WR 4th Round 2015.
 


Offensive Line:

The offensive line play was up and down most of last season and there is some cause for concern as the entire interior of the line needs to be replaced from 2013. The guards are freshman Larry Williams and sophomore J.T. Boyd. The tackles return with right tackle Tre Robertson being the steady figure and left tackle Ike Harris with the most pro potential. Harris stands 6'7" and plays between 310-330 (his weight went up and down all last year). Harris looks like a prospect as he has the build and the size. He is a project that struggled mightily at times last season but with improved hand placement and balance he could blossom into a future NFL prospect. The starters will not set the world on fire and the bench is largely unproven, so the one area on the football field that East Carolina can really not afford injuries is along the offensive line


Best Draft Prospect: Ike Harris OT 7th Round 2016.
 


Defense

Defensive Line:

The defense sees a lot of turnover from 2013 and Chrishon Rose at defensive end is the only retunrning starter along the defensive front. Terrell Stanley had 7 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss a season ago but a car accident will likely sideline him the entire year. Stanley led the team in sacks last year and was third in tackles for loss so him being out of the lineup is a huge concern. Johnathan White and Fred Presley will have to fill the void, but the two of them combined did not equal the output of Terrell Stanley. We do not see any legitimate NFL prospects along the defensive line at the present moment. Terry Williams now sees his importance at the nose tackle position go through the roof.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A

 


Linebackers:

Running the 3-4 means East Carolina should have a little more to show at the linebacker position. While the linebackers may be the strongest of the three defensive areas, this is not a unit that is among the elite in college football. Zeek Bigger is the only returning starter and he is the top returning tackler for the Pirates from 2013 when he had 77 tackles. Montese Overton and Dayon Pratt are both talented underclassmen that have speed for East Carolina and will require some attention. Bigger will be calling many of the plays, another role that Stanley likely would have filled for 2014, so Bigger has a lot of responsibility. Bigger was actually a player that didn't start 2013 as a starter but he has made the most of his opportunity.

Best Draft Prospect: Zeek Bigger LB UFA 2016.
 


Secondary:

The secondary is like the rest of the defense in that you are not wowed watching them but you would be if you studied them game-by-game last season as the improvement was evident to even the casual fan that would have watched. Lamar Ivey did not start a season ago but he has shown signs of being effective and we are listing him as a potential camp invitee that has a decent shot at making a club. Ivey is a little limited athletically but he is a sure tackler. Detric Allen is the only returning starter from the secondary but he did not start every game last season as the lineup was juggled on occasion. No returning player in the secondary or on the team for that matter had more than 1 interception a season ago. One of the keys for the secondary and the rest of the defense is forcing more turnovers and East Carolina has struggled with this at times in recent years. DaShawn Benton is an important role player from last season that will be asked to possibly start and play a big role in the secondary. East Carolina lacks overall speed and size but again they really improved over the course of the season so we may see that happen again.

Best Draft Prospect: Lamar Ivey S UFA 2015.
 


Special Teams:

East Carolina does have to be careful as the starting running back and star receiver are going to handle the primary return duties. Davon Grayson could be asked to fill one of the return roles but regardless it is not an area of particular strength. Worth Gregory is an Alabama transfer and it looks like he will open the season as the punter, as kicker Warren Harvey looks to rebound from a subpar season. The strength on special teams could be the coverage units as East Carolina was among the finest in Conference USA a season ago.

Best Draft Prospect: Justin Hardy WR\PR 4th Round 2015.
 


Schedule:

This is a big year for East Carolina as they make their debut in the American Athletic Conference. Getting out of September with just 1 win will be important as September brings road games at South Carolina and Virginia Tech and a home game with North Carolina. If East Carolina can win two of those games I expect them to have a national ranking before the season is through. The schedule is closed out on December 4th at home with Central Florida, a game that could determine who wins the regular season in the division.
 


Draft Outlook:

Shane Carden and Justin Hardy make a deadly combo and both will be playing at the next level. Watching Ike Harris and his progression at left tackle will be key because he has a ton of potential. There is no standout strength on defense though from a draft standpoint. The best prospect would be Terrell Stanley and he will not likely see the field until 2015.

 

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