The offense’s biggest strength is the fact that it has depth at multiple positions. Offensive Coordinator Tony Petersen has said he feels he has two starting quarterbacks in Gardner Minshew and Thomas Sirk. Gardner earned the starting job thanks to his familiarity with the team’s offensive system and personnel, as well as limiting turnovers in camp, which were a problem last season. If Sirk is called into action, there won’t be much of a drop off, if any. The former Duke Blue Devil proved himself to be more than capable as a starter in 2015, when he joined Deshaun Watson from Clemson and Marquise Williams from UNC as the only players in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to record 2.500+ passing yards and 800+ rushing yards in a single season.
At the running back position, the Pirates look to lean on a pair of transfers from Power Five conferences who complement each other with their opposing running styles. Derrell Scott, who transferred from the University of Tennessee, after the 2014 season, is a shifty, speedy runner, while Tyshon Dye, a graduate transfer from defending national champion Clemson, is a more powerful runner. They both are expected to see time on the field and their contrasting styles of running should keep opposing defenses guessing.
While the receiving corps no longer has Zay Jones in its ranks, it is still a talented and deep group. The receivers are led by senior Jimmy Williams, who is expected to step into the void left by Jones. Davon Grayson, Deondre Farrier and Quay Johnson are all expected to help carry the load, while Trevon Brown, who was ruled ineligible to play last season but has since been cleared, is being looked at to be a red zone threat.
Lack of experience on the offensive line might turn out to be a major weakness for the Pirates, with three of the linemen having never started a game for ECU before. Team captain Garrett McGhin and Brandon Smith, both returning starters from last year, will be leaned on heavily to help guide their inexperienced linemates.
Another potential area for concern for ECU is the fact it doesn’t have a proven go-to player at either the wide receiver, or running back position. While Jimmy Williams hauled in eight touchdowns and averaged 18.2 yards per catch last year, that was with Jones occupying the defense on the other side of the field. It remains to be seen if Williams, who has never made more than 45 receptions in a season, can produce as the number one option. And while both Scott and Dye are seen as talented backs who came from big-time programs, neither managed to get on the field much while at their previous schools. They will both get the chance to finally show what they can do, but it still remains a bit of a mystery if they can actually produce.
The depth of the defensive line looks to play in favor for the Pirates this season. ECU tallied only eight sacks last year, but the likes of Demage Bailey, Kendall Futtrell, Kiante Anderson, Gaelin Elmore, Jalen Price, Randall Anderson and Chandon Hickerson are looking to improve on that number.
The Pirates also have strong senior leadership at the linebacker position. Jordan Williams, last year’s leading tackler, and Ray Tillman, who racked up 18 tackles against Navy in 2016, are both entering their fourth season and are expected to get ample playing time once again.
One of the defense’s biggest weaknesses is the fact they don’t create many turnovers. Last year they forced opposing offenses into turning the ball over only eight times, picking off five passes and scooping up three fumbles. The Pirates hope the addition of graduate transfer safety Korrin Wiggins will help lead to more turnovers, but the Durham, North Carolina native recorded only four interceptions in his three seasons at Clemson.
Last year, ECU’s defense was also susceptible to giving up big plays in the running game, reflected by the fact opposing offenses averaged 5.4 yards per rush and 228.5 rushing yards per game against the Pirates. The coaching staff made it a point to work on limiting explosive play in camp, specifically by improving the secondary’s tackling, but it is now time to see if that work paid off.
I see ECU improving a bit on last year and finishing the 2017 season with a 5-7 record.