East Carolina's offense rusty in first football scrimmage

bhaines@newsobserver.comMarch 31, 2014 

— Heavy rain Saturday pushed East Carolina’s first scrimmage of the spring practice period to Monday and perhaps created a little rust on the offense as the Pirates had three false-start penalties and four turnovers to sour a strong effort by the running backs and secondary during the 60-play exhibition.

“We just have to get our timing down with everybody. Our receivers have to understand what we want,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said of the turnovers. “Nothing happened today that can’t get fixed; this team loves to be coached. There were some good plays by the defense, too. You have to give those guys some credit.”

McNeill said mastering the basics was the primary emphasis of Monday’s scrimmage.

“Fundamentals were the big things,” McNeill said. “(The scrimmage) was officiated hard and tight. We had a couple of administrative penalties. I wanted us to be fundamentally sound and play smart, and I wanted to see execution in what we call 11-man football. We have to watch the film, but from an eyeball standpoint I thought we did good.”

Mixed reviews for offense

The offense had varied success as the unit racked up 436 yards and a touchdown but threw three interceptions and lost one fumble.

Quarterback Shane Carden completed 13 of 22 passes for 133 yards with two interceptions, and backup Kurt Benkert went 7-for-14 for 100 yards and an interception.

“Offensively, we moved it pretty good, but we had four turnovers and a couple of penalties that really hurt us,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who gave his unit a D grade. “We had three interceptions and a fumble all as a result of trying to make too much happen. We probably executed a little bit better overall than we did at practice, but the turnovers and several false-start penalties negated what we were doing.”

Cam Worthy was the top wideout with four receptions for a scrimmage-best 54 yards.

Running backs Breon Allen, Chris Hairston and Marquez Grayson, who are vying to fill the void left by graduated two-time 1,000-yard rusher Vintavious Cooper, shined, averaging a combined 8 yards per attempt.

Grayson, a redshirt freshman, led the way with 58 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown on an 11-yard run.

“I thought the running backs played well,” Riley said. “Hairston, Grayson and Allen all ran hard and ran well and had some explosive plays.”

Up front, Riley liked what he saw from a shorthanded offensive line that features only eight players this spring.

“I thought they did well,” Riley said. “I thought we had some big holes to run through, and for the most part the quarterbacks were protected pretty well. They’re probably ahead of schedule.”

Defensive backs impress

The secondary, which lost three starters from last year’s team, got off to a good start with two of the team’s three interceptions.

“We got four turnovers, which we were very excited about,” defensive coordinator Rick Smith said. “(Free safety) Lamar Ivey and (cornerback) Josh Hawkins got picks, and (inside linebacker) Brandon Williams made a great dive on a tipped ball to get a pick and (cornerback) DaShawn Benton caused a fumble.”

Inside linebacker Cameron White paced the Pirates with five tackles, and outside linebacker Montese Overton and Williams each had two sacks.

Smith also was pleased with the play of junior Domonique Lennon, who is battling to start at strong safety.

“Domonique Lennon is trying to be a leader,” Smith said. “We moved him from free safety to strong safety, and he’s done a good job. He’s playing the position well.

“I tell you who has impressed me the most, though, as far as just progress and improvement goes, is Terrell Richardson at strong safety.

“Freshman Travon Simmons, who we had at corner last year, is at free safety and he’s done well too.”

Overall, Smith, who awarded his unit a C+ for the day, was pleased with the play of the defense.

“I thought they played hard,” Smith said. “I thought the effort was good; of course tackling is never good the first time out. We gave up three passes over 20 yards and two runs over 12. So big plays is something we have to work on (along with) gap integrity in the run.”

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