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ECU Begins Fall Football Practices

GREENVILLE, N.C. - Fifth-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Skip Holtz, who has led the Pirates to three consecutive bowl appearances for the first time since 1999, 2000 and 2001 and the program's first Conference USA title last year, officially welcomed his 105-man preseason roster with its first workout of the season on Hight Field at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex late Friday afternoon.

East Carolina will follow Friday's initial practice, which was conducted in shorts and helmets, with single workouts at the practice facility through Tuesday before turning in the first of two scheduled two-a-day periods Wednesday, Aug. 12.

“Starting with the first day in shorts it was great to be back on the field, especially with so many upperclassmen running around like Patrick Pinkney, Dominique Lindsay, J.R. Rogers, Sean Allen, Jamar Bryant and Alex Taylor on offense," Holtz said. "Then when you go over to the other side of the ball and look at your front seven and you have one junior and six seniors. In the secondary you have two more upperclassmen in Van Eskridge and Levin Neal."

The Pirates are scheduled to put on shoulder pads for the first time Sunday before following with full gear Tuesday per NCAA rules. ECU's preseason practice schedule will culminate Sept. 5 when the Pirates host three-time Football Championship Subdivision national champion Appalachian State at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The Pirates return nine starters on offense, eight on the defensive side of the ball and welcome back a total of 55 lettermen off a team which also recorded a title-winning 6-2 Conference USA East Division mark. In addition, ECU closed the year by winning six of its last eight games and stood among the nation's Top 30 in eight different statistical categories - including a No. 5 rank in passes intercepted and a No. 7 rating in total turnovers gained.

Headlining the list of returnees are 17 seniors who were members of the season-ending positional depth chart in 2008, including wide receivers Alex Taylor and Reyn Willis, offensive linemen Terence Campbell, T.J. Harper, Sean Allen, Doug Palmer and Stephen Heis, quarterbacks Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass, running back J.R. Rogers, defensive linemen Jay Ross, C.J. Wilson and Scotty Robinson, linebackers Jeremy Chambliss, Nick Johnson and Chris Mattocks, and safety Van Eskridge.

Pinkney, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA last Jan. 23 after missing the entire 2005 season due to a shoulder injury and subsequent multiple surgical procedures, has played a key role in the Pirates' combined 17 victories and pair of bowl appearances in 2007 and 2008. He opened 13 of 14 games last fall and completed 223-of-363 passes for 2,675 yards and 13 touchdowns, which included a season-high 296-yard effort against Kentucky in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

In all, East Carolina's offensive unit will welcome back 23 lettermen, 16 of which experienced playing time on the offensive line (10) and wide receiver (six) positions. In addition to Campbell (T), Allen (C) and Palmer (G), junior guard Cory Dowless and junior tackle D.J. Scott are back as returning starters.

All-Conference USA selections Wilson, Eskridge, Johnson and Ross played integral roles for a Pirate defense that ranked among the top three in the league's four major statistical categories - topping C-USA in scoring defense (21.1 ppg) and total defense (333.0 ypg), while standing second in pass defense (197.2 ypg) and third in rush defense (135.8 ypg).

While all-league junior tackle Linval Joseph will join Ross and Wilson as returning starters on the line, ECU's defense will also be bolstered by the return of 23 total lettermen. In addition to Eskridge, who was the Pirates' third-leading tackler with 97 in 2008, East Carolina's secondary will also bring back a pair of cornerbacks in juniors Dekota Marshall and Travis Simmons. Although it lost Pierre Bell to graduation, the Pirates' linebacking corps will benefit by the return of Johnson (102) and Chambliss (60), who finished first and fifth among the unit's top tacklers, respectively.

“It’s nice to have all this experience and guys that have seen a lot of action on offense and defense," Holtz added. "They came out here today and communicated well and were excited about it being on the field. But at the same time when you have a seasoned veteran group like this, I think they are ready to go ahead and put on the pads.”

The Pirates have garnered plenty of preseason attention prior to the opening of camp. In addition to Wilson's honors as the league's preseason defensive player-of-the-year and selection to the Ted Hendricks Award Watch List, Eskridge was included on the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List and Pinkney was named to the initial Johnny Unitas Award Watch List while punter Matt Dodge was chosen to the Ray Guy Award Watch List.

Prior to a Saturday afternoon workout, the Pirates will conduct their annual media day activities inside the Murphy Center where Holtz will provide his annual season-opening address that will outline the latest roster additions and deletions, personnel status, injuries and position changes.

2009 ECU OFFENSE ... AT-A-GLANCE

Scheme: multiple
Starters Returning/Lost: 9/2
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 23/9
2008 Rushing Offense: 126.4 (84/8)
2008 Passing Offense: 214.0 (60/9)
2008 Total Offense: 340.4 (79/8)
2008 Scoring Offense: 23.4 (81/7)
() National/Conference USA rank

2009 ECU DEFENSE ... AT-A-GLANCE

Scheme: multiple
Starters Returning/Lost: 8/3
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 23/14
2008 Rushing Defense: 135.8 (48/3)
2008 Passing Defense: 197.2 (46/2)
2008 Total Defense: 333.0 (41/1)
2008 Scoring Defense: 21.1 (30/1)
() National/Conference USA rank

2009 ECU SPECIAL TEAMS ... AT-A-GLANCE

Starters Returning/Lost: 5/1
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 6/1
2008 Field Goals/Game Average: 1.57 (12/3)
2008 Net Punting Average: 37.9 (10/1)
2008 Kickoff Return Average: 20.9 (66/4)
2008 Punt Return Average: 9.2 (53/2)
() National/Conference USA rank


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