GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -Greg Hudson is seeing a familiar expression on the faces of some of his linebackers at practice this week.
Wide-eyed stares.
Hudson, East Carolina's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, is trying to take three players with only special teams experience this year and have them ready to step in after starter Quentin Cotton went down with a knee injury. The 15th-ranked Pirates had played only four linebackers all season, meaning sophomore Melvin Patterson and redshirt freshmen Cliff Perryman and Steve Spence - who have combined for one tackle this year - will have to play as reserves when they travel to North Carolina State on Saturday.
``We call them 'The Shock Troops' because they're in shock when we put them in the game,'' Hudson said. ``They're at the edge of the cliff. They're like a young bird, and I'm going to push them in.
``They're going in. Whether they like it or not, they're going in the game.''
for the Pirates (3-0) considering they have plenty of experience in starters Pierre Bell, Jeremy Chambliss and newly elevated Nick Johnson. But for a team that has held opponents to about 270 yards per game and shut down West Virginia's offense, Cotton's season-ending injury in the second quarter of last weekend's win at Tulane has left them precariously thin at the heart of the defense.
Bell (28 career starts) is still around to anchor the middle, while Chambliss has started all three games at outside linebacker this year. Johnson had played all three positions and will replace Cotton in the lineup.
Behind them, Patterson had 20 tackles at safety last year, but his only tackle this year came on special teams against the Mountaineers. Perryman and Spence have yet to tally a hit.
Are they ready?
``We're going to find out,'' Chambliss said. ``We're giving them a lot of tutoring. We're pulling them off to the side after each snap and we're trying to tell them to do this or line up like this. We're doing a lot of coaching to them as if we're (Hudson).''
Patterson, for one, doesn't sound too worried.
``I feel like I have a great grasp on the system,'' he said. ``Coach is letting us know we have to step up, so I'm preparing myself on the field and off by watching extra film. I'm not worrying about going out and playing to Quentin's level, but just going out there and making plays.
finitely happy that I was put in this position and I'm looking to take it.''
Still, the situation is enough to make the coaches a little antsy. Earlier this week, coach Skip Holtz admitted that young players can be scary because their inexperience could lead to game-changing mistakes. But the Pirates don't have many options, either.
Hudson, who has been with Holtz in Greenville since his arrival four seasons ago, figures it's not all on his linebackers. He is quick to point out that he's every bit as responsible for how they perform, though he also says it's impossible to know exactly how they'll react to playing in front of a game day crowd.
``They've got a lot of energy, and they don't have many bumps and bruises on them,'' Hudson said. ``They're fresh and aggressive. We've got to put them in position where they don't fail. That's my job. If I get a guy out of position, we'll pay the consequences and inevitably that's my fault.''

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