GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill's third season is officially underway as he welcomed members of his 105-man preseason roster to campus Thursday afternoon to kick off the 2012 campaign.
The student-athletes moved into Aycock Dorm on campus before handling traditional check-in responsibilities such as physicals, equipment-fitting sessions, portrait photos and mandated NCAA meetings. ECU then began preparations for its initial practice of camp scheduled for Friday afternoon.
East Carolina returns seven starters on each of its offensive and defensive units, and welcomes back a total of 48 lettermen off a team which posted a 5-7 mark and stood third in Conference USA's East Division with a 4-4 record last fall. The number of returnees allow the 2012 Pirates to possess their most experienced overall roster in the McNeill era at ECU, a tenure that has featured a combined 49 first-time starters - 24 in 2010 and 25 in 2011.
Defensively, East Carolina will begin its second season in a 3-4 alignment that helped trim 102.5 yards off its total per-game average and moved the Pirates from 120th in 2010 to an upper-half finish in 2011 (56th). ECU brings back roughly 70 percent of its production in four major categories from last season - tackles (70.2), tackles for lost yardage (70.9), sacks (67.4) and turnover production (76.2 percent of combined interceptions and fumble recoveries).
On the other hand, with the departure of record-setting quarterback Dominique Davis and outside receiver Lance Lewis, the Pirates' spread attack returns only 45.7 percent of its scoring and less than 30 percent (28.8) of its total offense yardage it accumulated a year ago.
Newcomers to East Carolina's squad include junior college transfers DB Adonis Armstrong, RB Vintavious Cooper, OL Keifer Neal, OWR Lance Ray, P Brendan Rowland, DB Chip Thompson and OLB Gabriel Woullard, as well as true freshmen DB Deshaun Amos, OL J.T. Boyd, OLB Drayvon Fairley, OLB Dayon Pratt, OL Ryan Revia, IWR Quataye Smyre, OWR Jabril Solomon, OLB Reece Speight. Armstrong and Thompson both enrolled in January and were able to go through the spring practice period with the Pirates.
Although absent during Thursday's check-in, McNeill was optimistic that Cooper, Ray and Woullard would join their new teammates at some point during camp.
In addition to the signees, ECU's roster is also bolstered by seven new invited walk-ons - OWR DaQuan Barnes, DE Jaxon Parker, DE Frederick Presley, IWR Karson Redfern, PK Alex Sloan, DE Gary Wortham and OWR John Worthy.