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Each season, ECU Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley has been kind enough to have an extended discussion about his offense and the players who will make it fly or not fly. What I have learned in the years since his arrival in Greenville is that he doesn’t sugar coat it. He also doesn’t hide it when he is excited or confident. And most times, it’s on the money.
You have to read it to get the full gist, but Riley in short confirmed what we expected: Offense wreaks with skill position talent and get this, has more talent across the board on the OL then ever so far in this staff’s tenure. Scary.
For the in-depth piece, you have to go over to Bonesville for the story (which is scheduled to run on Monday).
But talking to Riley, it got me thinking about the players who are most likely to have a break-out season this year, not only on the offense, but all over the team. So, as part of the Bonesville pitch, I thought I would take a stab at some of the guys who it think will have a break out season in 2014-15 for our Pirates.
IWR – Bryce Williams (JR):
The 6-6 combo tight end/wide receiver was pretty good last year and looked every bit the mismatch the Pirates had hoped that Justin Jones would be before he was ruled ineligible for the season. Where Williams lacked was his overall size/strength in the blocking game and somewhat in his rapport with starting QB Shane Carden. Williams obviously was all in this off-season in Camp (Jeff) Connors as the swift receiver is checking in now around 250-55 pounds without losing a bit of his athleticism. And…spring and the fall camp have proven that last year’s end of the season was no fluke…Williams and Carden are now totally in sync. Ruh Roh Scooby! With the pressure that Justin Hardy puts on the underneath coverage, imagine the possibilities Williams will create this season. I expect that he will break out this season as more than just a situational mismatch and become a weapon that teams will have to plan for alongside of Hardy. He should blow apart his 220 yards receiving a year ago, improve on his 11.0 ypr, and continue to hurt teams in the red zone (look for more than 5 TDs).
OWR – Cam Worthy (SR):
Quietly, a year ago, Worthy became a noticeably (if you were watching) good receiver on the outside. Extremely raw as a WR walk on into the program a year ago (coming as a JUCO transfer), the 6-3, 200 pounder appeared to start grasping the position down the stretch and as he did, his size/strength became more obvious. The guy was literally taking the ball away from people last season. He developed a fade route, he learned how to live in the world between the hash marks and the sideline and became a strong blocker on the edge. Now, as a senior, he is poised to be a difference maker. He is the leader of a talented OWR group and though he is not the first thought in the vertical game, teams that sleep on him will be sorry. I expect Worthy to push up his numbers dramatically, improving on his 15.5 ypr average a year ago.
RB – Chris Hairston (JR)
While I think that Breon Allen will be the main back this year and deservedly so, I really have this feel that Hairston is going to emerge big-time for the Pirates. He reminds me a little bit – now that we have seen him run healthy some – of Dominique Lindsay, though Hairston has a little more size. Would love to say he was a Jerris McPhail clone because their running styles are so similar, but Hairston has nowhere near the speed McPhail had. Still Lindsay was a very good runner for the Pirates and Hairston’s sort of straight ahead with a wiggle style could be perfect for the Pirates as the Offensive line gels in the running game. We are going to need hard yards against stout defensive fronts early in the season and Hairston looks like he could deliver – similar to the damage he did against UAB a year ago. Hairston pounded out 92 yards against the Blazers on just 13 carries, slashing and pounding his way ahead. Not saying he will be the feature back…but, I think if he needed, he can break out this season.
OG – Quincy McKinney (JR)
Over the years, the JUCO transfer OLs that have come into the system have not, well, to put it nicely…stood out a whole lot. That trend should end this season. I expect both McKinney and tackle Dontae Levingston (also a transfer) to have a huge impact, but particularly McKinney. The guy looks like a bad ass and lines up at a position that everyone is calling a liability. McKinney was an all-America JUCO a year ago at Hutchinson Community College. Here is why I think he is legit. 1) Hutchinson is one of those JUCO factories…they are a way station for high talent, academic casualties who right the ship and move on to a big school; 2) he is a massive guard at 6-4, 311 pounds who can move; 3) Hutchinson CC ran the ball effectively (at 162 ypg) and McKinney was a big part of that – though at tackle. He passes the eye test for sure. I expect him to be a stalwart at guard for the Pirates.
DE – Jonathon White (JR)
If you watched White play last year (as a top reserve), it was evident that there was NO drop-off when he was in the line-up which says a lot considering one of the guys he backed up is still fighting for an NFL roster spot and the other guy is now starting at another position on the D-line. He is bigger, faster, and stronger this season, after what insiders say was a stellar off-season with Coach Connors (and that type of praise does not come easily). His 22 tackles (2 for loss), 2 sacks, and 2 QB hurries are a good indicated that he can move his 6-4, 292 pound frame. With ridiculous speed coming off the edges from OLBs Montese Overton and Maurice Falls, White will often find himself with only a single blocker who is stressed beyond believe trying to reach those OLBs. White should have a field day against the run and should put up some pretty good pass disruption numbers from his DE position. I expect White to be an all-league consideration by the time the season is in its back third.
OLB – Montese Overton (JR)
While OLB Maurice Falls is a bit of a physical freak (see #7 here), one player who I think goes from good to dominant this season is Overton. Talk about a guy whose motor is always going and his is not only always moving, it is always moving fast. The guy has incredible edge speed…ask Tulsa’s QB about that. His 6 sacks and 10.5 TFLs were no fluke and he did it behind all everything OLB Derrell Johnson, who is now plying his wares in the NFL. With Overton in the line-up full time, the Pirates truly have an edge rusher who could challenge any across the nation. And, if Falls is anywhere near what he is being predicted to be, Overton’s output should increase. His 4.41 speed is not only legit, it is obvious when you watch him make even seasoned tackles look like they lost something on the field as they spin around searching for him as he heads off to the QB. What’s more is that he plays downfield the same way, as a beast of a pursuer able to turn plays that look to be big gainers for an opponent in to manageable gains. I am super excited to see Overton in the line-up full-time this season.
ILB – Zeek Bigger (JR)
People can go on and on about how we have to replace the whole linebacking corps…but to do so is just BS. While Jeremy Grove (sadly) is no longer on the field and Kyle Tudor has graduated, Zeek Biggers was by default a starter a year ago by any definition other than to have been designated as such on day 1. The played practically the whole season. Starting with the third game of the season, he was a fixture (starter) the rest of the way, with the exception of the bowl game where Coach Ruffin McNeil out of respect for his Jeremy Grove, started the injured, beloved former frosh all-America. By all other measures – not the least of which being his 77 tackles (including 4.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, and an INT – Bigger is s seasoned starter. And, I think he is just getting started. At 6-2, 228 pounds, Bigger is all over the place. He is a big hitter, a smart signal caller, and clearly a respected focal point in the defense (even a year ago with more veterans on the field). I expect Bigger to be even better this year now that he is truly a guy who has been there, done that. I think his name starts to elevate on a national level going forward.
Boundary CB – DaShawn Benton (SO)
In a word…physical. This kid is hard not to love…he came in with a swagger and then backed it up by making a name for himself on special teams as a true freshman, mainly through a punishing style. He has an edge and that is why I expect him to blow up this season as a corner who makes life hell on wide receivers. He has size at 6-0, 190 pounds (relatively at least as a corner) and has the right mental approach to a position that is immensely stressful. A year ago, he saw his RS go away in the third game of the season and then saw action the rest of the way. He only registered 10 tackles and a pass breakup and a pass deflection, but despite little in the stat book, he plays big. I expect him to be a mainstay in the rotation on the back-end this season.
Punter – Worth Gregory (SO)
The Pirates got an opportune transfer in former Crimson Tide walk-on Gregory this past year and the 6-3 booming kicker comes online right when the team needed it. Losing another long-legged punter in graduated Trent Tignor left a whole in the special teams for the Pirates, but in Gregory, it seems they have found a worthy successor. While he did not kick for Alabama, he was part of a national championship team. Prior to that, he was considered the top kicking prospect in the state of South Carolina and among the nation’s best 10 punters according to some of the rating agencies. All that aside, in the spring, he demonstrated the ability to boom the ball within the kick coverage strategy and was adept at managing the 20 yard line. In a program that stresses the value of the “third side of the ball,” Gregory is almost certain to have an instant breakout for the Pirates.
Well…there you have my votes for break out Pirates of 2014-15 season.
Would love to hear other thoughts on this topic!