On Tuesday, a month-plus of position battles took the form of ECU football’s first depth chart. Released ahead of the Pirates’ season-opener against No. 13 UCF on Saturday, there were not a ton of surprises, but plenty of depth was present.

As most everyone expected, ECU’s defensive front is filled with young, inexperienced players. Three sophomores and a graduate transfer are penciled in as starters, but up to four players are listed at each position. Chris Willis, the graduate transfer from Appalachian State, junior transfer Dre Terry and senior Hozey Hadri-Badri represent some of the only experience in a position group chalked full of underclassmen.

“I think the kids are just ready to go out there and play,” head coach Mike Houston said on Tuesday. “Unlike last year, we have put an emphasis on building some depth there on that defensive front. So we’ve had great competition throughout preseason camp. We’re going to play a lot of kids on Saturday, so they’re just ready to go compete.”

The full depth chart can be found here.

Sticking with the defense, sophomore transfer Shawn Dourseau is listed as a starting safety, but carries an “OR” with senior Davondre Robinson. Bolded “OR’s” can be found at 11 different positions in the first draft of ECU’s two-deep, signifying position battles that will persist into practice this week.

“Around here you’re competing everyday,” Houston said. “You could see some adjustments between now and Saturday, certainly there’s a lot of “OR’s” on there. There’s a lot of competition still going on. There’s lots of guys that have been out that are coming back that this is really their first week back practicing a lot. You could see those guys evolve as the week goes on. I think that’s the great thing about our roster right now is you do have a lot of competition across the board.”

ECU’s leading rusher from a season ago, Demetrius Mauney, is one of those guys that have missed time here recently. While he is back healthy and prepared to practice with the team ahead of Saturday, he was withheld from the depth chart because his game readiness is still up in the air.

In his place, Darius Pinnix or Chase Hayden will get the nod at running back against the Knights, with true freshmen Rahjai Harris and Keaton Mitchell listed as third and fourth options.

“Demetrius Mauney is a guy that’s been — he was out and missed some time during camp and he’s coming back so there’s another guy that’s going to be in that mix,” Houston said. “I think there’s been a lot of competition right there. We want to play a lot of guys in the backfield. Now you’re getting into competition, you’re getting into games, so certainly performance on the field is going to dictate some of that. It is good to have multiple options.”

To block for that running back group, the Pirates plan to utilize a healthy amount of offensive lineman this season. COVID-19 testing and contact tracing during the preseason has meant no single offensive lineman has participated fully, hindering their development and all but forcing ECU to cast a wide net for playing time.

A projected big piece of that, Noah Henderson, will miss the opener with lingering injury issues, according to Houston, helping redshirt junior Bailey Malovic elevate to starting right tackle. Redshirt freshman Hampton Ergle will back him up, while ECU’s two offensive line transfers in Justin Chase and Avery Jones will provide depth at the guard positions.

“You have some solid guys as far as depth competition going on and certainly when Noah comes back you’ll have another guy added in, and that can only help us,” Houston said. “You’re going to see a couple of guys playing multiple spots to try to keep as fresh (as possible) throughout the game. Certainly you see more quality depth this year than what we had a year ago.”

In a normal year, the first installment of a team’s depth chart may change a handful of times ahead of its first contest. In a year dominated by COVID-19 quarantines, however, depth charts may change that many times in a given day.

Before ECU takes the field against UCF on Saturday, they will undergo two COVID-19 tests in addition to the one administered on Monday. Those tests, with Friday’s being a rapid result test, will serve as the go/no-go for personnel associated with both programs.

For the Pirates, this week will be about maintaining their low active case rate so they can field as deep of a team as possible to combat the Knights four days from now.

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