Three quarterbacks combined to pass for 248 yards in East Carolina’s spring football game in Greenville.
Rio Johnson, Cody Keith and former walk-on Brad Wornick all had moments of success.
But when the Pirates open their season Sept. 1 against Appalachian State, a guy who watched from the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium sidelines back on April 14 may be the starter.
Shane Carden, a redshirt sophomore entering the 2012-13 academic year, missed the final two weeks of spring work after he broke the index finger on his right hand and had to undergo surgery.
Carden’s recovery leaves ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley with a confounding elimination process when preseason camp opens.
“It’s unusual to have to four of ’em so neck and neck,” Riley said this week. “I’ve never seen a situation like this one. But the thing is, I like it because it’s encouraging that we have this much quality depth in only our third season here. All four have the arms and basic talent to be starters.”
The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Carden is the son of former major league baseball player Jay Carden.
Born in California, Carden moved to Houston with his family when he was in the seventh grade. Although he was a standout player at Houston’s Episcopal High, Carden was ready to play at Stephen Austin University in Nacogdoches, Tex., until ECU hired Ruffin McNeill from Texas Tech to follow Skip Holtz as head coach after the 2009 season.
McNeill brought along Riley to handle the Pirate offense, and Riley brought in Carden.
“I’d never really been in this part of the country until I took a visit when coach Ruff got here,” Carden said. “But ECU was a great fit for me. So is our attack offense. I think it was meant to be in a way.”
With Dominique Davis at quarterback for the past two seasons, Riley’s offense was among the most prolific in the nation.
Davis, who signed a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons, threw for 62 touchdowns and more than 7,000 yards and rushed for 14 TDs.
For all of the scoring, the Pirates could do no better than 5-7 (4-4 Conference USA) after finishing 6-7 (5-3 C-USA) in McNeill’s first season.
Although the absence of Davis may seem daunting, Riley says there will be little change in his nonstop spread alignment and doesn’t see quarterback inexperience as an overwhelming barrier to improvement
“It’s an aggressive offense, and we’ll stay aggressive,” Riley said. “We won’t retreat. I don’t think we’ll have to with this quarterback group. I’ve been around them enough to think they’ll be fine.”
Riley also plans to settle on one quarterback, who he hopes to have in place a couple of weeks before the noon game against Appalachian State.
“I think you have to get two ready, of course,” Riley said. “But I’ve never much liked the idea of a rotation. You have to show faith in your starter, and that’s especially the case in this kind of offense.
“The way we play offense, you have to be a leader and play the role of a leader.
“Settling on a starter will be tough, but the upside is that all four of these guys have a solid understanding of the offense. From the day we get out there, we can get right to work on the competition.
“We won’t have to do any brushing up on the playbook or how to execute it.”
Years ago, one of Greenville’s most popular gathering spots for ECU students and fans was a place named “The Coach and Four.”
Someone should have saved a few T-shirts for Riley and his quarterback quartet.