As most of you guys know, I recently interviewed ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley for an extended Q&A which is currently running on Bonesville. I always like chatting with Coach Riley because – at least at this point in his career – he is open, patient, and clearly loves what he does. His accessibility is unequaled and the guy simply lives ECU football 24/7.
He sounded really confident about the team, but was straightforward in his concerns as well. He is worried about the tackle position from a depth perspective. He is very confident in our two projected starters, but is very concerned that after those two guys, we have a great need. Perhaps that is why the staff is zeroing in on some quality JUCOs there. One thing he isnt worried about, is Quarterback.
My personal sense is that he expects it to be a dog fight in the spring and he is trying not to tip in terms of who he thinks should rise to the top. My guess is that the spring depth chart looks like this coming into summer: Carden, Wornick, Johson, Keith. However…my hit rate is awful on predictions…so, maybe I should have just flipped a coin.
Up front, while he is concerned deeply about the tackle position, I think he has the opposite feel for the interior line. He is jacked up about Josh Clark at center. It is funny because this staff seems a little surprised about how good he is at center, but Skip and crew recruited him as a center when he first got here. Watching Josh’s performance, he is a good one and hopefully he can stay healthy. With him at center, we have two starting guards that may well be the best tandem in C-USA based on peformance in Will Simmons and Jordan Davis. Davis, as most of you will probably recall came in as a projected stud at guard, but had to be moved to left tackle out of need. With Adhem Elsawi playing so well at tackle, Davis is back at his natural position and it showed in his final few games. With Taylor Jordan able to play at a high level at each of the three positions – yes, including center – depth is not as big an issue. Add to that the Lincoln is really excited about C.J. Struyk – the legacy walk-on from West Carteret High School. Riley said that C.J. is freakishly strong and very, very smart which should offset any concerns about his height.
I found it interesting that Coach Riley stated that they were getting the blocking they wanted to be able to run the ball with authority, but aside from Reggie Bullock, the running backs were really just poorly consistent with running within the blocking scheme. It sounded to me that Lincoln believes a healthy Reggie Bullock gives us one of the best backs in CUSA with potential to be highly-productive in the running game in addition to the receiving and pass protection aspects of the job. But, after Bullock…the drop off is precipitous. Even more surprising to me was the excitement he had when mentioning that we are talking to a couple if not three running backs who he believes, if signed, could come in and challenge even Bullock for the job. And, he seemed confident that we might get one of those recruits. We have to wait and see on that one.
As you probably gathered from the article, the battle at receiver is just brutal. The top to bottom talent in this group is sick, made even more competitive with the injuries to Lance Lewis, Justin Jones and the suspension of Michael Bowman for the first game. We have some flat out amazing young talents at wide receiver. Between Andrew Bodenheimer, Justin Hardy, Justin Jones, Danny Webster, Reese Wiggins, Derrick Harris, Dayon Arrington, Mike Price, Zico Pasut, Torian Richardson, Donte Sumpter, and Antonio Cannon, their is no room for error for any of these guys in 2012 or they will find the slide down is swifter than the climb up. Save a few of the young guys, each of these guys have shown an ability to make big plays.
Riley has his favorites – mostly based on who has shown the most consistency – but he clearly is fair when it comes to PT and he indicated that this year, turnovers will most definitely be met with a reordering of the DC. My personal favorite in this group is Justin Hardy…watching that kid play, I would forget he is just a freshman. I also like Bodie and agree with Riley that he will become exponentially more important in this, his senior campaign.
I am really looking forward to this spring as there will so many good battles out there. Hopefully it will be a light spring on injuries.
Among the things Lincoln and I discussed that got chopped in the published interview were his excitement over Lance Lewis’ prospects in the April NFL draft, saying that Lance should be fully healthy and will be ready to go for whichever team should draft him. He is just a play maker and a very smooth one at that.
Lincoln also seemed excited about the new coaches coming in, though he said that even though they are already a done deal, it couldn’t divulge the names since that is Coach Ruff’s thing. He said that he is fully confident that the running backs coach will be perfect for the job.
He said that he has a deeper understanding of what his colleague Brian Mitchell was dealing with in 2010, admitting that it drives it home when it is in your shop rather than the other guy’s.
Riley also said that he really is excited to be on this staff in this city coaching for this team. He loves the passion the fan base exudes – he runs on a heavy dose of passion himself – and when pressed about what he and his former boss and mentor Mike Leach discussed he really seemed sincere when he said, “I’m not going anywhere…I love it here.” I believe him.
I’ll check back in with him after signing day and let you know how it goes.