During the first five years of East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill leading way (2010-2014), the East Carolina offense has been very similar to the air raid offense McNeill saw at Texas Tech. McNeill inherited quarterback Dominique Davis for two seasons that saw the dual-threat quarterback pass for 7,192 yards and 64 touchdowns while going 11-14.
With Davis lost to graduation, McNeill plugged in Shane Carden at quarterback to lead the way for the Pirates. Carden was excellent in his three years as a starter with 12,021 yards passing, 85 touchdowns, and a 26-13 record as a starter.
For McNeill and the East Carolina coaching staff, the philosophy is as simple as recruiting the right player to the program and plugging in new players every year. So far at quarterback, the plug in system has worked as is evidenced with Carden putting up even better numbers than Davis during their times at East Carolina.
The 2015 season will be very interesting as redshirt sophomore Kurt Benkert seems to be the player to beat for the spot but he will have some competition leading up to the season opener on September 5th versus Towson.
Lets look at the three quarterbacks that have any realistic shot at earning the coveted starting job for the ECU air raid offense:
Kurt Benkert: 6-3/225, SO: After finding his way to East Carolina via Cape Coral, Florida, Benkert has been able to impress everyone around Pirate camp. Benkert chose East Carolina in over offers from South Alabama, South Florida, Marshall, WKU, and UCF as a 3-star prospect. Redshirted in 2013 but took over the backup quarterback job in 2014 and passed 8-10 for 58 yards in limited duty behind Carden.
Benkert has pretty much led the way at quarterback throughout the spring and the Pirates coaching staff seems to think there will not be too much of a dropoff with Benkert in control of the offense. Of course there will be some due to Carden setting multiple school records but the expectations for Benkert at East Carolina are through the roof.
Blake Kemp: 6-1/207, JR: Kemp came in from the JUCO level with not too much expected of him but has been able to take advantage of Keith's extended injury recovery to stake his claim as the backup to Benkert. Kemp heads into the 2015 season with two years of eligiblity left and while does not seem to be a significant threat to unseat Benkert, can turn out to be a very good backup that can play well in spurts for the Pirates in late game situations or if Benkert happens to go down to an injury.
Cody Keith: 6-3/200, JR: Formerly the backup for Carden in 2013 and saw light duty completing 7-11 passes for 57 yards. Was shut down due to elbow troubles and ended up having tommy john surgery to correct the problem. Due to the length of the tommy john surgery, Keith did not play in the 2014 season at all.
Keith will have two years of eligibility left with the program starting in 2015 but has to show that he can still throw the ball on a regular basis as well as he could pre-injury to have a chance at the starting job. Right now, he is a significant longshot to see any playing time this fall unless significant injuries occur. I hate to see him going from the quarterback in waiting to an afterthought but that is how football goes.
For any of these three quarterbacks, expectations are high with East Carolina expected to compete for the 2015 American Athletic Conference crown. Every year since McNeill took over, the Pirates have seen a quarterback throw for 3,000 or more yards. It is essential for that streak to continue in 2015 if ECU has any shot at not only a bowl but that AAC title as well.
Now is the time to see if East Carolina's "plug and play" philosophy will be able to work again and send another Pirate quarterback into the record books.