With all of the news about Ruffin McNeill's departure from the program and the overall insanity involved, I have been putting off a proper season in review for the Pirates.
Enough time has passed that is it time to take a look at the 2015 season and grade the program.
The loss of Kurt Benkert to injury came at the worst possible time. If it happened in the spring or even early in fall camp, the Pirates would have been more prepared to roll with another quarterback. Instead, it came right before the season, forcing ECU to send Blake Kemp in for the season opener.
Kemp was not bad in 2015, but struggled with turnover issues. Even during the Virginia Tech game, the Pirates were tied at 14 when he was taken out due in part to his inability to take care of the ball. In came James Summers, a player that was expected to play wide receiver this fall. Summers was solid, but limited in his skill set.
The biggest complaint is the fact that the coaches did not stick with Kemp. It hurt the offense moving back and forth between quarterbacks.
Chris Hairston was the leader of a rushing attack that was up and down all season. With Summers at quarterback, the running game was much more involved, but it would fade into the background when Kemp was inserted into the lineup. While Hairston is gone, the return of Anthony Scott and Marquez Grayson give the Pirates options in the run game.
The receiving duo of Isaiah Jones and Bryce Williams lived up to expectations in 2015. Jones (98 catches) and Williams (58 catches) were responsible for 156 catches, 1,687 yards, and nine touchdowns. Trevon Brown and Davon Grayson also made over 30 catches for a quartet of receivers that was among the best in the group of five. Of the four, only Williams was a senior.
The ECU offensive line was solid but slightly underachieving in 2015. Injuries really kept the line from finding the cohesion needed to get the offense going at a high level.
Lost in some of the final scores is the fact that the East Carolina defense kept them in many games, while the offense struggled. The only times that the defense looked overmatched were games against Navy and BYU.
The Pirates defense, one that gave up 400 yards per game, got the majority of its production from linebackers Zeek Bigger, Jordan Williams, and Montese Overton. The trio combined for 249 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks. They were arguably the three best players on the ECU defense, but only WIlliams will be back in 2015.
It was great to see senior Terell Stanley return to the field after injuries sustained in an automobile accident. He not only returned but also made 41 tackles, 6.5 for loss. Fellow senior Johnathan White added 6.5 tackles for loss to the defensive line total. Both are gone to graduation, but Fred Presley will be back. The rising senior was fifth on the team in tackles with 44 to go along with four tackles for loss.
The secondary did not have many team high tacklers. Only Travon Simmons and Josh Hawkins were able to make more than 35 tackles on the season. The biggest positive moving forward is the fact that so many players saw time in the secondary, so that should be a position of strength with so many losses in the front seven.
Special Teams: B
On first glance, I was ready to give the ECU special teams an A. In the end, I could not do that because three punts were blocked. Worth Gregory, when given time to punt, was among the best in the nation this season with 32 of his 60 punts landing inside the opponents 20-yard line. He was a great weapon and could be argued as the team's MVP.
Caleb Pratt, as a kickoff specialist, was a player that no one mentioned. When you are in that position, that is a good thing. He landed over half of his kickoffs for touchbacks, with no one returning a kickoff any more than 39 yards on the season.
Placekicker Davis Plowman had a solid season in making 10 of his 12 attempts, making his final five attempts of the season.
One cannot discount how negatively the Benkert injury changed the direction of the season. He has the ability to pass as good as anyone while also showing the ability to run the ball well. If you took the best of Kemp and Summers and turned them into one player, that is Benkert. It was unfair to expect the Pirates to do very much better than they did without Benkert, but they had a chance to make a bowl and couldn't get it done.
Worth Gregory. Yes, I did it. I named a punter the MVP of the East Carolina season. Just take a look back this season and remember how many pf his punts landed inside the opponent's five-yard line, especially versus Virginia Tech. He was a true weapon at punter and among the best in the nation at his position.
I don't even know. I haven't even gotten much into the insanity involved with the head coaching change. We could see a new coach come in and bring this team together with very few transfers, or we could see several players all over the roster take off due to the was he was treated. Players, current and past, are still angry, so all we can really do is sit and wait.