ECU football got in lucky practice No. 7 on Friday morning ahead of Saturday’s scheduled scrimmage in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. After a day off from practice and workouts on Thursday, Mike Houston’s team was back in action working on some fundamentals and situational drills that will be on full display in Saturday’s activities.

“Just finished up practice No. 7,” Houston said on Friday. “We were in shells this morning. Had the day off yesterday from practice, had a couple meetings yesterday, but practice-wise had the day off. Came back in shells this morning. Worked a lot of special teams fundamentals in addition to some situations in preparation for our scrimmage tomorrow. Not a real long practice but certainly one that is important. Tried to work in some of our fundamental stuff that we do on Sundays throughout the season today just to introduce those to everybody.”

Whether it was the day off, the impending start to classes on Monday or something else entirely, Houston said Friday’s practice was not as sharp as he would have liked. Through previous practices, the Pirates have worked on individual pieces of necessary fundamentals, but Friday was the first time ECU attempted to put everything together.

“Not completely pleased with this morning, I ripped their butt a little bit after practice,” Houston said. “It’s one of those things, I know that there’s unknown everywhere in our world right now, but we got to keep our focus on today…We’ve done those drills a little bit the first six days, this is the first time we’ve put them all together, and it looked really sloopy. It did not look like I expected it to look.

“We may see some of that tomorrow, too. I’ve been pleased that we’ve had some flashes of sharpness this week, but putting it all together in a scrimmage-type situation, that’s going to be the real key.”

With those flashes of sharpness have come an equal amount of busts and less than stellar play through the first week of formal practices. With all that is going on in the world right now regarding COVID-19, and all the stuff student-athletes have weighing on their minds, Houston understands there will be growing pains to iron out with his young football team.

Nevertheless, Saturday will be an important step evaluation-wise for Houston and his staff as they attempt to shake-out who will rise toward the top of the depth chart. Additionally, it will be the first time ECU has played in front of officials and in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium since last season, as this year’s annual spring game was canceled due to the pandemic.

“Looking forward to tomorrow, though,” Houston said. “Should have the officials here tomorrow. Looking to get in probably 70-80 snaps total. Probably get each unit about 35 snaps of live action. We will have live special teams tomorrow, we’ll tag off on the returners, but all the blocks and everything will be live. Should get a great opportunity to get some situational football in and to be in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, so excited about that.”

For some of the position battles that are going on all across the roster, Saturday will provide an opportunity for the cream to begin rising to the top. Positions are up for grabs virtually everywhere on defense, while establishing who Holton Ahlers’ back-up will be at quarterback figures to be a large part of the plans moving forward.

“(Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach) Donnie (Kirkpatrick) and I, we’ve been talking about this the last several days,” Houston said. “That’s really the key right now is figuring out who’s No. 2 and then trying to figure out who’s No. 3, so they can compete with No. 2. We’ve got several of them that have shown some bright flashes. I think tomorrow is going to be a great evaluation for them. Certainly we want to get Holton some work tomorrow, but I think it’s very important that we get those other guys some solid snaps so they can compete against each other.”

While Ahlers has the starting job locked up, the Pirates are very deep personnel-wise behind him. Currently, ECU is carrying six scholarship quarterbacks, including returners Bryan Gagg and Alex Flinn. Gagg served as Ahlers’ backup much of last season after Reid Herring entered the transfer portal early in the year. Still, Gagg only saw the field in limited amounts last year, allowing the Pirates to redshirt him.

New to the quarterback room this year are three freshmen in Mason Garcia, Taji Hudson and Ryan Stubblefield. Garcia, who entered ECU as one of the highest rated prospects to ever commit to the university, encountered some eligibility issues that were just resolved earlier this week.

“His waiver was approved (by the NCAA) so he is eligible,” Houston said. “He is deemed fully eligible, ready to play, so kind of checked that box off. Really excited about that. I called him as soon as I got the news last night and told him myself just so I could congratulate him. A lot of people have worked very hard putting that together.”

Garcia will likely see a lot of reps under center on Saturday as the Pirates are set to get their first taste of game action in 2020.

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