East Carolina football coaches are seeing how much work and teaching freshman running back Demetrius Mauney can handle.

From receiving first-team reps last week during the first few days of preseason camp to the power spin move he executed during a goal-line drill Wednesday morning to impress teammates and onlookers, steady communication and teaching moments with running backs coach De'Rail Sims and working directly with projected starting quarterback Holton Ahlers (including Thursday) in the backfield, Mauney has been busy during his first full practice week with the Pirates.

"We are absolutely ecstatic about this freshman and he is really showing that he might be special," offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said Thursday of Mauney, a 6-foot, 194-pound rusher from East Rutherford High School.

Head coach Mike Houston said earlier this week that the rookie is not overly vocal, but, "He talks through his play, and I really like that a lot.”

Junior Darius Pinnix, who has bulked up to 234 pounds, remains the favorite to start at running back. He is on track to improve on his mark of 22.2 yards per game during an overall dismal output by ECU running backs in 2018.

Mauney, a three-star recruit who had reported scholarship offers from Purdue, Appalachian State, Temple, Old Dominion and others, and senior Hussein Howe also are pushing for their share of carries.

"(Pinnix) has been a beast out there, he really has, and we've tried not to overdo it because it's not all about just winning against your own team," Kirkpatrick said. "It's about (seeing) the other guys. Hussein Howe also is really having a nice camp."

On defense and special teams is where rookie cornerbacks Ja'Quan McMillian and Juan Powell are looking to crack into the starting lineup. Defensive lineman Rick D'Abreu also has shown that he could be an impact player this year.

The offense features Mauney and fellow freshmen C.J. Johnson (6-2, 229-pound outside receiver) and Jeremy Lewis (tight end). Mauney's junior year at East Rutherford included 1,572 yards and 20 touchdowns on 178 carries, and also 63 tackles on defense.

"Sometimes guys like (Mauney) and C.J. and Jeremy Lewis have moved up and worked with the 1s and 2s, but I haven't dummied down the script one bit," said Kirkpatrick, who in is his first stint at ECU (2005-15) mentored Pirate pass-catching greats such as Justin Hardy, Dwayne Harris, Zay Jones and Bryce Williams. "At times I question myself to make it a little easier so it would look a little better and maybe we walk off the field feeling better about ourselves, but I don't think that is what would make us feel good after the game Aug. 31 (at N.C. State).

"We've thrown it at them and just to see somewhat how they can handle it and what do they do if they don't totally know what they should do or how to do things. A couple of these freshmen are pretty special."

It was not all positive for the offense on Thursday.

During the second day of players wearing full pads, Houston and Kirkpatrick both mentioned that the offensive line struggled.

"I thought today was our first day, offensively, when we had some bad habits creep back in," Kirkpatrick said. "I think we gave in, and it is human nature because you want to be comfortable and do what makes you feel good. Sometimes that is not what wins you football games."

Kirkpatrick also was asked about quarterback play after Thursday's workout.

"Both of those guys (Ahlers and Reid Herring) did a lot of drill work this summer and went out there to work on some technique and to try to be more efficient," he said. "I can tell that they are really trying to do what I ask them to do. They are not just saying, 'I am going to do it my way.'"

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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