Mike Houston and ECU were active early and often on the transfer market this off-season, pulling in seven commits from high-profile schools. All but cornerback Isaiah Kemp from Duke figure to be immediately eligible, with multiple years of eligibility being one of the common threads among the transfers.

Targeting players to fulfill weak spots on the roster means the Pirates picked up a defensive end in Chris Willis from Appalachian State and a cornerback from Alabama in Nigel Knott. Ryan Jones, who has yet to join the team as he completes his degree of Oklahoma, will convert from linebacker and play tight end for ECU.

Avery Jones and Justin Chase will fill voids left by Cortez Herrin and John Spellacy along the offensive line, while Arkansas running back Chase Hayden will compete for a starting job with Darius Pinnix Jr. and others.

Less than a week into preseason practice, these transfers are making their presence known to Houston and his football team.

“I think a lot of them have made some already positive impacts,” Houston said. “I think when you look at Avery Jones and Justin Chase, both of those guys are working with the first and second offensive line, so they’re pushing for starting positions right now. You look at Chris Willis, an experienced guy on that defensive line. Just his maturity has been the thing that’s been the most impressive so far. He’s actually played and played significant snaps, so that’s been really good to see there.”

While both Jones and Chase are transferring from Power 5 programs and Willis is coming from a Sun Belt contender, the Pirates were also successful in finding a handful of JUCO transfers to boost their roster’s experience level.

Shawn Dourseau, Henry Garrison and Robert Kennedy have all seen snaps at the collegiate level and all figure to have some kind of impact on ECU’s defense in 2020 and beyond.

“Some of the guys in the secondary, whether it’s Robert Kennedy or Shawn Dourseau or Nigel Knott, they’ve made us more athletic, they’ve made us faster, they’ve given us depth,” Houston said. “It’s a deal where you’re adding in those sprinkles of older players into an extremely young football team.”

Despite returning nearly every player at a skill position on offense from last year, the Pirates will be missing their entire 2019 defensive line. Daniel Charles and Colby Gore will be missing from the secondary, while outside linebacker Gerard Stringer is set to miss the 2020 campaign after suffering an ankle injury during the off-season.

With Kendall Futrell’s production gone up front and a grouping of players that made a combined 82 starts on defense last season to replace, most, if not all, of the transfers will likely get a shot to prove themselves on the field, while relieving some pressure on freshmen to preform.

“That’s only going to help with the growth of those young players, and it’s going to help where at some point, you might not have to play a freshman this year where if you would have, it could have been some rough days,” Houston said.

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