Pirates look towards second scrimmage

Sports

GREENVILLE (WNCT) – It was all smiles for the ECU offense on an oppressive muggy Wednesday morning inside the Cliff Moore Practice Complex. Conversely, scowls ruled the day on defense.

That’s how it goes during pre-season camp as the Pirates continued to prep for Saturday’s scrimmage and the August 31 opener at NC State.

“This was the second of four consecutive practices in full pads and it was a competitive one,” head coach Mike Houston said. “I’m really excited about the way our offense practiced today. It was the best one they’ve had during fall camp so far, so of course, I’m a little ticked off at the defense.

“The offense set the tone during the first drill (inside run) with a lot of energy, came off the ball and got downhill. They continued throughout the entire practice, so it was great to see.”

Houston and the offensive coaching staff have taken every opportunity to preach the team concept – every unit has to do its job for the team to succeed. Wednesday was the day for the offensive line.

“The offensive line is the heart and soul of your team,” Houston said. “As they go, so we will go, because they set the tone for practice. They did a great job today.

I want a bunch with a lunch pail attitude, come to work every day with a chip on their shoulder ready to stick their hand in the dirt and get after it. I saw a much-improved unit today and it’s a matter of bringing that consistent work ethic every day.”

Junior left tackle D’Ante Smith and senior left guard Cortez Herrin started all 12 games last year and Houston expects them to anchor the line again this fall.

“They had an outstanding day today and have improved since practice started,” Houston said. “You can’t help but love Tez (Herrin). He’s full of life and his enthusiasm is so important to our huddle. His positive altitude is contagious. Those two guys are having a solid week and we are going to depend on them a lot.”

The Pirates will also depend on their outside receivers to find the end zone and put up big numbers this fall.

There’s depth at the position with juniors Jonathan Johnson and Mydreon Vines, sophomores Leroy Henley and Blake Proehl along with true freshman C.J. Johnsonand redshirt freshman Andre Pegues battling for time on the field.

“Those guys have worked hard in the spring and throughout fall camp to improve the little things it takes to produce big plays,” said first-year outside receivers coach Drew Dudzik, who came to ECU from James Madison along with the majority of Houston’s staff.

“It all starts with alignment and stance,” Dudzik said. “You have to have your chest over your knee, your knee over your toe to be ready to go. Good hands are vital as well. This group works every day on eyes to the ball, tracking it all the way in, quick to the tuck after the catch, then burst upfield and get vertical. They’ve taken it upon themselves to stay after practice and work on catching the ball.”

“We have to have multiple guys who can make plays,” Dudzik continued. “Proehl has improved since the spring. Vines has the speed and acceleration to make big plays. C.J. Johnson has really stepped up as a freshman. We are expecting big things from him.  Pegues is a former basketball player and we need him to play big on the football field. Henley and (Jonathan) Johnson are capable as well. We need all of them.” 

Dudzik started at quarterback at James Madison his senior year, then joined the corporate world after earning his master’s degree. The lure of the gridiron pulled him back to football after a year and he started as a high school assistant coach in Raleigh.

That led to a graduate assistant position at Duke under David Cutcliffe, then a spot on Houston’s staff at JMU.

“Coach Cutcliffe encouraged me to learn a new position and the receivers are tied to the quarterback in the passing game,” Dudzik said. “I learned a ton from him and from Donnie Kirkpatrick at JMU and now here, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Saturday’s scrimmage will be the next chance for the players to compete in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in game-like conditions. Houston said the rest of the practice week will build up to it.

“Thursday will be a heavy day with a lot of situational work,” Houston said. “We’ll have every game situation installed by Saturday. It will be a big evaluation for a lot of guys. We’ll establish our depth chart and start to focus on NC State after Saturday, so we want to put them in a lot of situations and see how they respond.”

PRESEASON CAMP NOTEBOOK
Houston officially announced the addition of WR Audie Omotosho (oh-moe-TOE-show) to the Pirates’ roster … Omotosho, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound graduate transfer from UCLA, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining at ECU … His inaugural Pirate workout was without gear Wednesday morning in accordance with the NCAA’s mandated “acclimation period” after earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology a few days earlier … Omotosho, who starred at Plano East High School, is the first Texas prep product to play the receiver position at ECU since All-America selection Zay Jones (2013-16) … Houston offered the following comments on Omotosho: “He’s a highly-skilled athlete and he looked the same way in person today that he looked on film, so we’re excited to have him in our program. He gives us an older veteran in the receivers’ room who has a lot of ability. He’s completely healthy and excited about getting on the field to start practicing.” 

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