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When it comes to the quarterback position, it’s been since the days of Shane Carden that the Pirates have had stability at the position.
While former head coach Ruffin McNeill managed a juggling act between Blake Kemp and James Summers in 2015 before being fired, injuries and inconsistent play have kept the Pirates from having consistency at the position under Scottie Montgomery the last two years as well.
After a strong start to Philip Nelson’s season in 2016, a shot to the head derailed his momentum and he never was quite the same when splitting time with Gardner Minshew the rest of the year.
This season, it’s been more of the same for the Pirates. Minshew beat out Duke graduate transfer Thomas Sirk for the starting gig in preseason camp, but then struggled in the opener. He was benched at halftime of the season-opening loss to James Madison, only to be re-inserted the following week when Sirk made his first start at West Virginia, but suffered a concussion in the third quarter.
Minshew played well in the second half at West Virginia and in the first quarter of his most recent start against Virginia Tech before things unraveled from there. Heading into week 4, ECU is turning back to Sirk, who was cleared for the game against the Hokies, but sat out for precautionary reasons.
Now, with conference play here, the Pirates would like to see someone take the No. 1 quarterback job and run with it. Sirk gets another crack at it this Sunday at UConn.
“It’d be really nice to get it established,” said Montgomery, whose team is coming off a 64-17 loss to Virginia Tech to fall to 0-3. “It’s kind of hard. I don’t think I’ve been at a place where you have had so many little things to change the change the quarterback position, especially the injuries and some dings, and some shoulders and different things. We want consistency. We want the best thing for our team, which is to add some run game, add some passing game and keep that guy upright. So consistency, the part of it is, we’ve just got to keep him upright.
“The less he gets hit, the better, and it will give us some consistency.”
In an ideal world, the Pirates would probably like to see Sirk take the job and run with it. While Minshew may be a better pure passer, Sirk’s a proven winner coming from Duke, and the Pirates believe his dual-threat ability can help open up multiple facets of the offense.
Not to mention ECU has also recruited several quarterbacks who can run in Kingsley Ifedi, Reid Herring and 2018 commit Holton Ahlers, so finding a groove now with a running quarterback could help set up things for the future offensively as well.
“I think it’s big. Anytime you have a quarterback (that can run), it just changes the defense,” offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “The backside (defensive) ends can’t come down on the run game like they normally do. Linebackers have to be careful not getting down too hard where they can’t catch up with the quarterback. Safeties start playing it different in case the quarterback keeps the football. It changes the dynamics big time.”
Sirk indicated following Tuesday’s practice it’s become clear over the years how much his running ability can help open up a defense from his vantage point in the pocket.
“I think if the opportunity is there to run, I’ll take it,” Sirk said. “Just like I have in the first two games. When there was a chance for me to get outside the pocket or run, I think it helps us. I think it helps keep defense on their toes and it helps us. It helps prevent them from doing some things they want to when you have a quarterback that’s able to get out.”
Many college football athletes dream of playing on Sundays.
Well, ECU and UConn players will get their chance this weekend thanks to last week’s rescheduling effort by the American Athletic Conference.
After Hurricane Irma wiped out UConn’s week 2 matchup against South Florida, the AAC juggled its league schedule to postpone the game for later this season instead of canceling it. Two ECU road games were shifted. The matchup at UConn, which was originally scheduled for Nov. 4, was moved up to this coming Sunday, while ECU’s previously slated Oct. 28 meeting at Houston was moved back to Nov. 4.
The Pirates’ new bye week will now follow the Oct. 21 game against BYU at home.
UConn (1-1) and ECU will battle on Sunday instead of Saturday because of a scheduled soccer game at Rentschler Field. It isn’t quite the NFL, but will be a different experience for both sides.
“It will probably be pretty odd for a lot of our kids,” Montgomery said. “The one thing that you do get to do when you play on a Sunday is that you get to watch everyone else play on that Saturday. It is kind of a calming affect for you and then on Sunday you get a chance to go play. I think the best thing for our players is that they will get an extra work and rest day and I think that is important for us right now.”
Sirk said the game being moved up was welcomed by the players.
“I was excited that we have an opportunity to get back out on the field,” Sirk said. “I think that our bye week getting moved back later is a good spot for us, because right now, we’re ready to get back on the field. We’re hungry to go into conference play, get a win and come out firing.”
ECU’s struggles on the field haven’t stopped Montgomery and his staff from continuing to do work on the recruiting trail.
On what could turn out to be the biggest recruiting weekend of the year, the Pirates welcomed in multiple four-star prospects and several high-caliber athletes for visits during the Virginia Tech game.
Among the headliners was highly-touted Wake Forest High School senior Devon Lawrence, who is also being recruited by Clemson, North Carolina, Tennessee and UCLA.
“It’s a nice school, and they’ve just started recruiting me harder,” Lawrence said. “I just wanted to go see what it was all about and I liked what I saw.
“A lot stood out about the offense. They operate fast, which is something I like. I also like how they move the running backs around and use them in different ways.”
Among the notable class of 2019 visitors were four-star Wake Forest Heritage linebacker Drake Thomas and three-star Rocky Mount cornerback Shyheim Battle.
ECU has 19 commitments for the 2018 recruiting class.