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East Carolina intense as football season nears

GREENVILLE After a month of fall camp it didn’t take long for East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill and his players to transition into game mode.

With the Pirates ready to kick off the 2014 season against N.C. Central at home on Saturday, McNeill said the change in his team’s demeanor was noticeable upon conclusion of fall camp.

“We came back for a team meeting (on Sunday) and we got into the meat of it. … It became intense,” McNeill said.

With games against No. 9 South Carolina, Virginia Tech and No. 23 North Carolina around the corner, McNeill said his team is not overlooking the FCS Division I Eagles.

“We’re not looking past this day or this week,” McNeill said. “And I told (N.C. Central first-year coach Jerry Mack) that this week at a luncheon.”

N.C. Central went 5-7 last season under previous coach Dwayne Foster. The team has quick strike potential thanks to the play of preseason FCS All-American returner Adrian Wilkins.

As a sophomore last season, Wilkins was the only player in the FCS with five special teams return touchdowns, bringing back three kickoffs and two punts for scores.

McNeill said the Pirates’ special teams will be well prepared Saturday.

“(Special teams) is always big for us,” McNeill said. “… We understand the importance of field position. We understand the importance of making sure your defensive special teams and offensive special teams are always on high alert.”

For the Pirates, who finished last season with a 10-3 (6-2 Conference USA) record, Saturday’s game, which will be broadcast on ESPNEWS, marks their first as members of the American Athletic Conference.

Running up the depth chart: After a summerlong, six-player battle at the running back position, Breon Allen, Chris Hairston and Marquez Grayson have emerged as the top three backs, respectively.

It was expected that Allen, a senior and the Pirates’ top returning rusher, would get the No. 1 spot on the depth chart and would be followed by Hairston, a junior. However, the third spot was wide open.

Injury report: The Pirates will be without starting senior nose tackle Terry Williams (knee) on Saturday. The move forces ECU to slide senior defensive end Chrishon Rose into the vacated spot, with sophomore Fred Presley taking Rose’s place at defensive end.

Also starting out the season on the sideline are outside linebacker Jeton Beavers (right shoulder), wide receiver Daquan Barnes (back), linebacker Desi Brown (leg), linebacker Kirk Donaldson (knee), tight end Darren Dowdell (leg) and offensive lineman Christian Matau.

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