Depth is one of the most critical elements to a successful college football team. Teams that can keep their impact players fresh by constantly rotating new bodies into the lineup usually rise to the top as they can compete at a higher level for longer.

For ECU’s football team in 2019, depth was nonexistent on the defensive side of the football. The combination of Alex Turner, Kendall Futrell, Jalen Price and Chance Purvis started all 12 games along the Pirates’ defensive line, with little to no subbing throughout the contests.

While that feat represented a great deal of durability among those guys, toward the latter portion of the season, ECU’s defense became increasingly leaky. In the final six games of the 2019 campaign, the Pirates’ defense allowed at least 462 yards to opposing offenses per outing and hemorrhaged a season-high 669 yards against Tulsa in the final game.

As a whole, ECU was shaky all season on the defensive side of things. In points allowed per game, rushing and passing yards allowed per game, and total yards allowed per game, the Pirates ranked no higher than 108th in any of those categories. Their 469.3 yards allowed per contest in 2019 ranked ahead of just 11 FBS schools.

“Certainly you look at the situation we were in last year where there was no rotation,” head football coach Mike Houston said on Saturday. “Alex Turner was a great player, I loved that kid. He would have been such a more productive player if he’d have played 60 snaps a game and not 95 snaps a game. You have to be fresh on the defensive side of the ball to play at the speed to react to offenses.”

Recognizing and wanting to rectify that issue, Houston and his staff brought in a slew of defensive players during the off-season, with a particular focus on the defensive line. Chris Willis was brought in from Appalachian State to add some experience to the mix as all four of last year’s starters either exhausted their eligibility or were removed from the team during the off-season.

With upward of 20 defensive linemen on the roster right now, Houston described that group as a “small army” earlier in preseason camp. Those numbers allowed the Pirates to formulate a rotation of bodies during Saturday’s scrimmage in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“The rotation we had on the defensive line — you’re running two and three guys on the field virtually every other snap,” Houston said. “We played a ton of guys up front today (Saturday). The difference that made was our front defensively was fresh the entire scrimmage today. That allowed them to play fast and it allowed them to not be fatigued.”

While the nature of a preseason scrimmage is to rotate players in and out to allow them to gain experience in a simulated game situation, ECU does fully intend to play a lot of different players on defense this season.

Blake Harrell’s multiple defense will allow the Pirates to run plays in from the sideline with new players, whether it be along the defensive line or another position. More importantly, as Houston alluded to above, keeping fresh players in the game at all times makes your defense faster and better equipped to handle the physicality of opposing offensive lines in the American Athletic Conference.

On Saturday, rotating players on defense worked to the tune of seven offensive turnovers, five sacks and numerous forced fumbles in a 94-play scrimmage.

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