McNeill sees progress as Pirates prep for spring game
Posted April 9
After leading East Carolina to a 10-3 record in 2013 that included a bowl win over Ohio, head coach Ruffin McNeill entered the offseason looking for ways to challenge his Pirates.
McNeill wanted to praise his team for a job well done, but he didn't want his returning players to be complacent as they prepared for the 2014 campaign.
So far, so good.
McNeill said Wednesday that his Pirates have accepted the challenge presented by his staff during spring practices.
"It's been great. It's the fifth year, and it's been smoother," McNeill told Mark Thomas and Mike Maniscalco on 620 The Buzz AM. "I've been able to keep my staff together and have continuity, which is big. They know what we want, they know what I want."
That familiarity on the coaching staff has translated to the field, Mcneill said.
"This core of kids has been with us for four to five years now, so they understand the tempo and mentality we want in practice," he said. "It's been a good spring. I'm very pleased with how we've progressed."
The Pirates return six starters on offense, four on the defensive side of the ball and welcome back a total of 50 lettermen off a team that also recorded a 6-2 league mark in its last year of competition in Conference USA.
The play of quarterback Shane Carden, who McNeill says everyone calls "Captain," will be key for East Carolina to repeat the success they enjoyed last season.
The Houston native threw for 4,139 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2013 while completing 70 percent of his passes. He also ran for 10 touchdowns. In wins over North Carolina State and UNC, Carden was 55-of-77 passing for 631 yards and six touchdowns.
McNeill said he and his coaches have tried to make the Pirates feel like they "didn't win anything last year."
"We can't carry a touchdown, tackle or reception from last year's team to this year's team," he said. "There were some positive things that happened, but we left some things on the table. We keep raising expectations, and it's been really competitive in practice."
The established stars – like Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy – and new faces that will be forced into prominent roles will be on display Saturday at the Purple-Gold game, which is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Admission is free.
McNeill said the spring game will be a glorified practice, although it will be at game speed.
"It will be offense versus defense. We'll go like a normal scrimmage," he said. "We only get three full-time practices with tackling, this is the third full scrimmage we'll get. We'll call it a day when I feel like it."