08/07/10 — McNeill era officially begins at ECU

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McNeill era officially begins at ECU

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 7, 2010 11:18 PM

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GREENVILLE -- A new era begins.

Welcome home, Ruffin McNeill.

The latest East Carolina skipper could hardly contain his excitement during the Pirates' annual media day Saturday afternoon. McNeill said the team will need to determine its personality and brand during preseason workouts.

The ship sails this fall minus 28 seniors, NFL draftee Linval Joseph and record-setting quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who leaves the steering to an untested and unproven mate.

"You worry about the talent level," said McNeill. "I've been asked about that a number of times. One thing that's not mentioned, however, is the leadership that group provided.

"As a staff, we need to develop the leadership and those leaders in camp. There are different types of leaders, whether they are vocal, physical or both, we need them."

McNeill didn't inherit a stocked cupboard. Just 10 starters return off last year's CUSA championship squad.

Leading the pack is Dwayne Harris, a preseason all-CUSA selection who caught 83 passes for 873 yards last year and earned the league's special teams player of the year award. Harris suffered a slight injury in the Pirates' season-opening practice Friday, but is expected to fully recover.

Joining Harris on offense are guards Corey Dowless and D.J. Scott; wide receiver Kevin Gidrey and tackle Willie Smith. All are learning a spread attack scheme implemented by new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.

Cornerbacks Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons return on defense.

Harris, Simmons and Southern Wayne graduate William Smith (deep snapper) lead the return specialists.

Overall, 41 lettermen are back.

"There will be some guys who now have to play who may not have had significant repetitions coming into camp," said McNeill. "I'm excited to see those guys. For those players, the glass is half full. They are grasping the opportunity to get the experience and play more.

"The next thing we want to develop is depth at all positions. We have to get our depth determined on offense, defense and special teams."

ECU opens its season at home Sept. 5 against CUSA foe Tulsa. Six days later, the Pirates entertain Memphis and then embark on a three-game that includes ports of call at Virginia Tech, North Carolina and league nemesis Southern Miss.

McNeill's team will play four of its final seven games at home. However, the ECU alum isn't focused on any contest on yet another brutal and challenging schedule.

The most important thing for the team right now is focus.

"I have been asked about games on the schedule down the road," said McNeill. "As the head coach, I have to focus on today, today's practice and today's operation. It's the same thing with the team.

"One of the goals is to make sure they stayed focused each day. When the season starts, we have to make sure we are not worried about the next few games ahead. There are a lot of games on the schedule ... filled with top teams.

"We have to make sure we focus on the day-to-day process and to focus on one game a week because that's all we have those seven days."