ECU officially completed its fall preseason camp with Saturday’s scrimmage and Meet the Pirates. ECU classes began on Monday and the team will roll into its in-season practice schedule beginning on Tuesday.
So here’s a look back on everything that happened during the 15-day camp.
Houston has still not yet been able to name a starting quarterback and there still seems to be sort of a competition between Reid Herring and Holton Ahlers. Kirkpatrick at least alluded to there starting to be some separation at the spot late in camp. You have to think the job will inevitably go to Ahlers after how he improved toward the end of his freshman season.
Rookies ready to contribute:
There were a few young players that Houston referenced during camp as being ready to contribute right away this season. Demetrius Mauney at the running back spot, Juan Powell and Ja’Quan McMillian at the cornerback spots sat above veteran Colby Gore in the first depth chart released. Even freshman receiver CJ Johnson could contribute if the inconsistent wide receiver bunch needs.
Call it how they see it:
Coach Houston is about as transparent as they come. This goes all the way back to Houston being honest with UNC-Charlotte during negotiations about his interest in the ECU job. Houston kicked off camp saying he wouldn’t be afraid to “Call a spade a spade”. That hasn’t proved false yet, and he has referenced the bad culture and habits that were here before his arrival on numerous occasions. Those problems included accountability and punctuality among the players.
Offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick and defensive coordinator Bob Trott fell in line with that style as well. Kirkpatrick referred to bad habits creeping back in and poor offensive line play the first time he spoke to the media during camp. Trott insisted the defense was getting better but was measured ad cautious in any praise he gave.
Playing more physical:
One thing coach Houston has thought essential to improving the program and turning things around is establishing a much more physical style of play. This really had to be an emphasis after the way the coach Mo Pirates played.
“When you’re trying to change a program from what has been a very finesse, pass-first, perception is a soft football team, to be what we want to be, you can’t let your foot off the gas. You’ve got to stay on them. That’s why it’s so important right now that we cannot let up. We’ve got to stay on it and overcome mental weakness. We’ve got to overcome all the things that have haunted our program in the past. We cannot be distracted, we can’t look back, we’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
One thing that should help is the combo of Ahlers and Darius Pinnix (or Mauney) in the backfield. Both are big, physical runners that are difficult to bring down.
Houston was excited about the improvement of the practice football field, the new turf field included. On top of that, the TowneBank Tower is nearing completion for the home opener on Sept. 7. The Pirates also benefited physically from bringing in a full-time nutritionist for their teams, with many players being in improved shape.
The wide receivers:
The wide receiver room was shaken up during camp. Taj Deans left the team late in camp. That was followed up by the Pirates adding UCLA graduate transfer Audie Omotosho. Omotosho will be available to play for two years. He was with the Bruins for three seasons but never caught a pass. He redshirted, broke his leg and missed another season due to an undisclosed injury. Houston said the doctors cleared him and he’s completely healthy.
The defensive line:
The defensive line is shaping up to be a plus again this season, even without last year’s AAC DPOY Nate Harvey or four-star freshman Traveon Freshwater. The NCAA ruled against Harvey after he wanted another season of eligibility considering his freshman season consisted of a handful of snaps. They wrongly denied him and he turned to the NFL.
Freshwater had to deal with academic issues and was ruled an academic redshirt for the season, meaning he was on the team and could practice but not play. Houston called that the best situation for him.
Still, the Pirates have veteran Alex Turner on the inside and fellow veteran Kendall Futrell on the end. Futrell played really well a year ago opposite of Harvey but missed the spring due to injury. Since then, Houston has raved about him. Turner meanwhile has always been raved about by coaches and has been consistent his whole tenure, and that doesn’t look to change.