ECU Football

East Carolina cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian tackles Tulsa’s Keenen Johnson, right, at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Nov. 30, 2019.

Some college football teams have an abundance of returning proven veteran players for this year or a coaching staff that didn’t experience much turnover, if any at all.

There also are teams like East Carolina, which is still in rebuilding mode as an American Athletic Conference underdog and made widespread changes on its defensive staff since the end of last season. Most notable was Bob Trott was dismissed in mid-January and Blake Harrell from Kennesaw State hired as new defensive coordinator on Jan. 29, aiming to teach fresh concepts to a young defense in his first year as a coordinator at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

The halt of sports because of COVID-19, which for college football right now means no spring team workouts or spring games, is fueling unbalanced and unknown factors for players and coaches.

“You are going to have that every year no matter what happens, but this is going to exaggerate it a little bit,” ECU second-year coach Mike Houston said during his Tuesday teleconference. “I also think there are advantages and disadvantages because you have some programs that finished spring practice, but then a majority of us did not get it. You have some unbalance there also.”

The lack of spring practices is what Houston envisions will lead at some point to important oversight decisions by the NCAA.

“The NCAA is going to have to look at so many issues regarding that and what we are allowed to do when we come back,” he said. “Hopefully we can get back sometime this summer, and does that mean we get some practices during the summer before fall camp, for those of us that didn’t get spring practice? I don’t know what that looks like, but there are going to be a lot of advantages and disadvantages when we come out of this.”

The Pirates’ starting defensive line for their final game of 2019, a 49-24 loss to Tulsa, consisted of three seniors joined by junior end Chance Purvis, but Purvis’ status for this season remains unclear following a February arrest. Newcomers and former reserves, including potentially Rick D’Abreu, Hozey Haji-Badri, recruit J’Vian McCray and transfer Henry Garrison, are bound for significant roles.

Freshmen Juan Powell and Ja’Quan McMillian were starters in the secondary a year ago and bright spots, but the Pirates were hoping to use valuable spring workouts to revamp all levels of their defense.

“We’re installing a scheme and had done about as much as we can without going out and actually practicing it,” Houston said. “I am concerned about just not having spring practice to find out what we can do right now, schematically. The second piece, which is related to that piece also, is we are going to be a very young football team at some spots next year. That youth needed to practice. ... You are going to see freshmen on the field next year, so it’s about how we can bring those guys along as quickly as possible.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.