Each passing day draws ECU football closer to returning. Now just 10 days and a handful of hours away, the Pirates’ season-opener against UCF will signal the end to one of the longest off-seasons ever for ECU athletics.

Under two weeks away from facing off against a nationally ranked UCF team, Mike Houston’s Pirates used Sunday to break down film of Friday’s scrimmage, the third and final one of the preseason, and to get in some light work ahead of the new week. Monday acted as a normal Sunday practice, but Tuesday saw full pads and beginnings of the scout teams.

“We were in full pads today,” Houston said on Tuesday. “Heavy emphasis on the coverage teams and the kicking game. Had some live field goal and field block work at the end of practice. Had some good-on-good sessions where it’s still 1’s against 1’s and 2’s against 2’s for about 10 minutes of offense and defense, about 10 minutes of skelly. Everything else was scouted, so we had a lot of different scouted periods, doing some different things on each side of the ball depending on what we were doing. But still some competition stuff, perimeter drill today, some one-on-one stuff.”

Work by the coaching staff during the COVID-19 quarantine of the spring gave them a basic game plan outline for just about upcoming every opponent even before workouts and practices started. When ECU’s game against Marshall was canceled and the Knights were bumped up to the Pirates’ first game, work accelerated on a team that figures to be ranked somewhere in the AP Top-25 when they visit Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Sept. 26.

Being a conference foe, ECU already has a good idea of what they can expect from UCF. A 10-3 record last season under head coach Josh Heupel, the Knights are returning sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel, but losing top receiver Gabriel Davis. UCF has also had a number of players opt out of the upcoming season due to concerns over COVID-19, something that will likely impact their depth at multiple positions.

On that front, the Pirates are preparing as many players as possible to step on the field while keeping an eye on versatility due to their limited travel roster size this season.

“I think this year, everybody better be ready to play because you never know who is going to get pulled on your Friday COVID test,” Houston said. “It’s the reality. There’s some kids that are on our scout offense or scout defense that will travel and play on special teams. There are guys, we have seen it many years, where there’s a guy at the beginning of the year on the scout team that ends up starting by the end of the year.”

One of the new wrinkles to practice beginning this week was the scout teams. Designed to emulate UCF’s offensive and defensive scheme, ECU will use those units to prepare their first- and second-string personnel for what they can expect from the Knights.

It is a job that is often left for the players deeper in the depth chart, but it is also an important piece to any team’s preparation during a given week. Especially so with youthfulness present on ECU’s roster right now, the addition of the scout teams this week is to simulate a game week and verse some of the more inexperienced players with how the Pirates practice leading up to game day.

“Trying to start orienting all the new additions and the young kids, just to what practice week looks like, what a game week looks like,” Houston said. “Introduction of the scout teams, look teams. So now you have part of our team running UCF offensive and defensive plays against our first and second units. A lot of change this week.”

While there has been plenty of change, Houston said his team is fired up to be focusing on an actual opponent instead of repping against its own scheme. With a week and a half before kick-off, Houston wants his players to get a feel for game week practices before jumping into an actual one next week.

“Finally an emphasis on somebody besides ourselves, an emphasis on the University of Central Florida,” Houston said. “Good start to the week, really want to kind of work out all the kinks and all the wrinkles this week so that way we can go into next week locked in and ready to go.”

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