The East Carolina Pirates had the best ranked offense in the American Athletic Conference in 2014 but have the dubious distinction of replacing two of the most productive players in school history in quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy. Despite a significant amount of youth at skill positions, the Pirates expect to have answers on offense this fall.
At quarterback, the job has been given to Kurt Benkert after the sophomore backed up Carden and saw limited action in 2014. His cannon of an arm suggest that the Pirates will venture downfield with the deep ball more than in Carden's tenure. Cody Keith and Blake Kemp will battle for the backup job with former Minnesota starting quarterback Philip Nelson also in the mix after joining the program as a walk-on.
A senior has taken the reins at running back with Chris Hairston, the team's second leading rusher in 2014, looking to finally get the main reps this fall. Sophomores Anthony Scott and Marquez Grayson combined for 557 yards and 8 touchdowns last fall in limited duty. The group is looking to replace outgoing senior Breon Allen's 869 yards and eight touchdowns last fall and should be able to do so with the group of three.
Despite losing Hardy to the NFL, East Carolina returns an excellent wide receiver in junior Isaiah Jones. His 81 catches in 2014 was good for second on the team. Davon Grayson, Jimmy Williams, and Trevon Brown all made double digit catches for the Pirates last fall and should see significant playing time this fall. Sophomore Quay Johnson made nine catches as a freshman and should see time on the field at the slot position. Tight end Bryce Williams, a former walk-on at Marshall to start his career, has 38 career catches and has the ability to play tight end or fullback when needed.
The Pirates have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the AAC heading into the upcoming season with four starters making 10+ starts last fall. The line is led by senior Ike Harris, a preseason Lombardi and Outland Watch List member, at left tackle. Left guard Quincy McKinney made all 13 starts in 2014 and is the smallest of the ECU projected starting offensive linemen at 6-4, 288 pounds. Junior J.T. Boyd is making the move to center this fall after an outstanding season last fall. Boyd was also named to the Lombardi and Outland Watch Lists. Right tackle Dontae Levingston made 10 starts at the position in 2014 and should be an anchor on the right side that must break in a new starter. That new starter should be senior Tre Robertson, a player that made five starts in 2014 at multiple positions. Overall, the ECU offensive line averages 6-5, 301 pounds.
The Pirates may struggle early in the season with the replacement of so many important players at key positions but should find a groove quickly with all of the talent on the offensive side of the ball. Expect Hairston to have a big year at running back and Jones should push for 100+ catches this fall at wide receiver. The key to the ECU offense this fall is how well Benkert reacts to being the man on the FBS level and uses that strong arm to stretch the field.