GREENVILLE, N.C. - Despite missing five members of its preseason depth chart, including three projected starters, East Carolina's defensive unit allowed only one touchdown and forced three turnovers to highlight the Pirates' second intra-squad scrimmage of preseason camp Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
With defensive linemen Scotty Robinson and Khalif Mitchell, linebackers Quentin Cotton and Nick Johnson, and cornerback Jerek Hewett out because of injuries suffered earlier during camp, the remainder of the defense responded with a physical effort that limited ECU's offense to just one play over 25 yards and included three interceptions.
Although it allowed a pair of Ben Hartman field goals from 19 and 28 yards out in the first half and a one-yard scoring plunge by senior tailback Chris Johnson that capped the opening possession of the second period, ECU's defensive squad used big plays from its pass rush and secondary to keep the offense under control throughout the scrimmage.
In all, the Pirates recorded five tackles for lost yardage, including sacks by linebacker Lorenzo Osborne and ends C.J. Wilson and Marcus Hands. In addition, East Carolina used pass thefts from linebacker Jeremy Chambliss, cornerback Travis Williams and safety Van Eskridge, which he returned 48 yards for a touchdown.
“I thought there were a lot of positive things out there," head coach Skip Holtz said. "It’s a lot like spring practice in that it’s great but frustrating too. Van (Eskridge) cuts under Davon Drew and takes it back for a touchdown. That’s great but at the same time you have to realize that your quarterback just threw an interception. We'll take this film, evaluate it and put the pieces of the puzzle together. We are still a long way from being ready to play."
While the offense struggled to put points on the board, it did enjoy success moving the ball throughout the afternoon - racking up a total of 445 total yards, an average of 4.5 per snap. Sophomore quarterback Rob Kass directed the first team unit to a game-high 11 first downs and engineered two of the three scoring drives. He also threw for a game-high 123 yards, completing 14-of-22 passes while suffering one interception.
Fellow sophomore Brett Clay, who hooked up with tight end J.R. Kraemer for a game-high 58-yarder and guided the Pirates to a field goal on the first possession of the game while directing the No. 2 squad, finished the day completing six-of-15 passes for 107 yards. Junior Patrick Pinkney also experienced action with the second group and added 22 air yards on three-of-six completions. Including third-team signal-callers Taylor Mazzone and D.J. McFadden, the five accounted for 267 yards on 25 completions.
East Carolina's ground attack averaged 3.6 yards per carry, totaling 178 yards on 50 attempts. Johnson led all rushers with 40 yards on nine carries while true freshman Jonathan Williams and junior transfer J.R. Rogers added 34 and 29 yards, respectively. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Harris topped all receivers with 31 yards on four catches and sophomore Kyle Johnson contributed a three-reception, 26-yard performance.
Defensively, true freshman linebacker Cliff Perryman posted a game-high eight tackles and added a pass breakup while redshirt freshman safety Melvin Patterson chipped in with seven stops, including a tackle for lost yardage. In addition to his sack, Hands added a blocked point-after attempt that Leon Best picked up and returned the distance.
"I am really pleased with the hitting," Holtz added. "I think the attitude of this football team is excellent and we are working real hard. I think our team understands the challenge we face. It is a double-edged sword in that there is an unbelievable amount of excitement but at the same time they understand how far we have to go before we reach the level for which we strive. We are playing some great football teams to begin the season.
"The legs are a little heavy right now, but at the same time, I think after today they will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel as they start class on Wednesday," Holtz continued. "We will also have a chance to loosen their bodies up a little bit. Today concluded the 'dog days' and you can sense their enthusiasm and spirit rise as they see camp come to an end.”
In the opening half, each No. 1 unit faced off against the No. 2 squad across the line of scrimmage while the second period featured a more traditional matchup of equal levels of the depth chart.
RUSHING: Chris Johnson (9-40, 1 TD), Jonathan Williams (6-34), J.R. Rogers (8-29), Norman Whitley (6-23), Dominique Lindsay (5-19), D.J. McFadden (2-11), Brandon Simmons (2-10), Justin Brockmeyer (3-7), Dwayne Harris (1-7), Patrick Pinkney (4-0), Rob Kass (3-<-1>), Brett Clay (1-<-1>). Totals –– 50-178 (3.6 ypr), 1 TD.
PASSING: Rob Kass (22-14-1, 123 yards), Brett Clay (15-6-0, 107 yards), Patrick Pinkney (6-3-1, 22 yards), Taylor Mazzone (3-1-0, 8 yards), D.J. McFadden (2-1-1, 7 yards). Totals –– 48-25-3, 267 yards, 0 TD.
RECEIVING: Dwayne Harris (4-31), Kyle Johnson (3-26), Dominique Lindsay (2-37), Jay Sonnhalter (2-29), Jamar Bryant (2-19), T.J. Lee (2-9), Alex Taylor (2-9), J.R. Kraemer (1-58), Kevin Gidrey (1-15), J.R. Rogers (1-10), Javon Brumsey (1-8), DeMorio Waymon (1-7), Phillip Henry (1-5), Juwon Crowell (1-2), Jonathan Williams (1-2). Totals –– 25-267, 0 TD
TACKLES: Cliff Perryman (8, PB), Melvin Patterson (7, TFL), Maurice Mercer (5), Matt Thompson (4), Leon Best (4, FF), Lorenzo Osborne (4, PB, QBH, SACK/-2 yards), Danny Muhwezi (4), C.J. Wilson (4, QBH, SACK/-1 yards), Van Eskridge (4, INT/48-yard return), Jay Ross (3), Chris Mattocks (3), Dekota Marshall (3), Durwin Lamb (3), Darryl Reynolds (3), Travis Simmons (3), Fred Wilson (3), Marcus Hands (3, QBH, SACK/-3 yards), J.J. Milbrook (3, TFL), Austin Haynes (2), Antonio Allison (2), Chris Atkins (2), A.J. Johnson (2), Mark Robinson (2, QBH), Jeremy Chambliss (2, INT), Zack Slate (2, QBH), Jeremy Bullock (1), Linval Joseph (1), Travis Williams (INT)
TOTAL OFFENSE/TOTAL DEFENSE: 98-445 (4.5 ypp); FIRST DOWNS: 23; THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS: 8/21; FUMBLES/LOST: 4/0; PENALTIES: 3 (3 offense, 0 defense)
SCORING: TDs (2) - Chris Johnson 1-yard run; Ben Hartman 19-yard field goal; Ben Hartman 28-yard field goal; Leon Best extra-point attempt return; Van Eskridge 48-yard interception return
NOTES: The Pirates will take a day off from on the field action Sunday before turning in its final two-a-day schedule of preseason camp Monday morning and afternoon ... Monday's Practice Times: 8:40 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. and 8:15 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.; Season Opener: Sept. 1 at Virginia Tech (12 noon)