East Carolina released the first football depth chart of the Mike Houston era last week at the American Athletic Conference’s annual preseason media event in Newport, RI. The Daily Reflector’s Ronnie Woodward tweeted a photo of the document.
The depth chart should give Pirates fans plenty to talk about between now and the opening of practice in a couple of weeks.
And that’s fine, because for the first time in a long time there’s reason to talk optimistically about the direction of the program.
Just be advised: Other than quarterback and a precious few other positions, any resemblance between the depth chart as it currently stands and the lineup that takes the field for the first snap at N.C. State on Aug. 31 will be purely coincidental.
“There’s competition across the board,” Houston said Thursday at the 17th annual Bill Dooley Pigskin Preview in Raleigh. “There’s no starting lineup right now. Those 25 practices we have before we head back over here to Raleigh for our opener will be critical to not only determining our depth chart, but also to continue to solidify our identity.”
In other words, paraphrasing singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson, they’ve come a long way, but they’re not there yet.
As much as Houston and his assistants were able to accomplish during spring practice, there is only so much a new staff can do over the course of those first 15 practices — especially when so much of that time is spent getting familiar with the personnel on hand.
Now that everyone has had time to get to know each other a little better, the coaches can start trying to figure out how best the pieces all fit together. It’s a process that entails much more than just installing the rest of the playbook and deciding who the starters are going to be.
“Our biggest thing is we are going to learn how to compete,” Houston said.
That’s not just coachspeak, although it’s always a good strategy after three straight three-win seasons — as ECU has done under former coach Scottie Montgomery — to not set your expectations too high right out of the gate.
The new coach said he was taken aback while watching video of last year’s team with how often it seemed as though the Pirates’ effort was lacking. Making sure that doesn’t happen again under his watch is job one in Houston’s first season since coming over from James Madison.
“If we are good enough, we’ll win,” said Houston, whose team has been picked to finish fifth in the six-team AAC East. “But we are going to compete no matter what each weekend.”
Effort and desire aren’t always things that can be taught. Some players come by those traits more naturally than most. But there’s no better motivating factor for a player, especially one that hasn’t yet cracked the lineup, than the carrot of playing time.
So it figures that the first few practices of preseason camp will feature plenty of individual battles.They also promise to be physical, since nothing breeds intensity more than a little aggression.
Or in the case of the 2019 Pirates, a lot more of it, since it’s an area Houston said was seriously lacking coming out of the spring.
“We’ve got to continue to build upon the physicality of our football team,” he said. “We are not the style of football team yet that I want to be. We have to play faster, we have to play with more of an edge and we have to play with more physicality at the point of contact. Those are going to be the real stress points for the first couple weeks of fall practice.”
Only after those points of emphasis are addressed can Houston and his Pirates truly start getting down to business on putting together a depth chart that will accurately reflect the way they line up at Carter-Finley Stadium six weeks from now.