Padded practices have returned to the fields around Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as ECU’s football team continues preparing for the 2020 season. Tuesday and Wednesday represented the first and second days in full pads for the Pirates, as they made the progression to full contact drills.

Second day in full pads,” head coach Mike Houston said in a Zoom meeting with reporters on Wednesday. “Starting with yesterday with full pads being incorporated in, lot of competition segments in practice. Yesterday had a couple and then today had a few more. Now you’ve incorporated in live contact into everything you’re doing, so certainly that changes a lot of the dynamics. You see a lot of players that are really, really good in helmets, and you start incorporating in contact and it changes.

“You also see some guys that maybe don’t stand out as much in helmets that are much better players once you start incorporating in the contact. I told the players after practice, from doing nothing for four months and not having practice since late last fall, early winter, that to go six straight days, I’ve thought they’ve handled it pretty well.”

After nearly a week of consecutive practices, the Pirates will take a day off from practice and workouts on Thursday, giving the players a much-needed break from on-field activities. Still, however, it is imperative that ECU plays its way into shape before matching up against Marshall at some point in late August or early September.

Following Thursday’s break the plan is to practice all weekend, with the preseason’s first scrimmage scheduled for Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen.

“We have obviously been very wise with what we’ve done and have not done the volume that we usually do this time of the year,” Houston said. “At the same time, we’ve increased it just a little bit everyday. We’ll finish up this afternoon with a weight session and some meetings, things like that, a walk-through. Tomorrow, we’re going to take the day off from practice and workouts. Little bit of meeting time. Really get off their feet, off their legs. Lots of recovery, some rehab in the training room and then get ready to go Friday, Saturday, Sunday with a scrimmage in the stadium Saturday with officials.”

Since spring practice and the annual spring game was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saturday will represent the first scrimmage between portions of ECU’s team since last season. A lot of players figure to see action during the scrimmage as Houston and his staff continue to prepare as many players as possible for the upcoming campaign.

With protocols in place, however, how the Pirates participate in the scrimmage will look different than in years past.

“We’ll have to follow protocols,” Houston said. “I’ve got the grounds crew setting up the fields very similar to what they will be during the regular season. The players box will be from the 10 to the 10, which will allow a lot of spacing on the sidelines. All the kids will be wearing the gaiter masks while they’re in pads, so anytime they’ve got their helmet off, they’ll have a mask on. Everything operationally, we just got to be conscientious of making sure we got good spacing anytime the guys are out of the drill.”

Spreading out the players’ box is something that will also be in place for the upcoming regular season in an effort to keep student-athletes as socially distanced as possible during games.

As the preseason wears on, keeping players and staff updated on changing protocols and enforcing the ones currently in place will be very important in determining what shape the season will take.

Houston said the Pirates have already been forced to keep some guys sidelined due to contact tracing efforts, but believes his team is adapting well to the situation and following all the necessary procedures.

“It’s coming along, continuing to do, I think, a better and better job everyday with some of the protocols as related to the virus,” Houston said. “I think that’s reflected in our numbers that we have right now. Hopefully that trend will continue. The more guys we have out there practicing, obviously, the higher level we’re going to play at.”

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