East Carolina coaches Mike Houston, left, and Fontel Mines talk while wearing masks during practice Friday.

Depth in college football is as important as ever.

In-season testing for COVID-19 this year could lead to starters being held out of games on short notice. For East Carolina, that could mean missing a player like quarterback Holton Ahlers or lead receiver C.J. Johnson or on a defensive line that is already thin on proven experience.

"With practicing on multiple fields, you have the incoming freshmen getting as many reps as the returning starters," coach Mike Houston said Saturday. "We call them Group A and Group B, and we shuffle them around a lot and guys are going back and forth to fields from day to day. In essence, you are building your depth the way we're practicing right now. Certainly it's aging the coaches, but I do think it's what we have to do this year.

"Every one of those quarterbacks (six on scholarship) is getting reps and every one of those D-Linemen is getting reps and all the running backs are getting reps. Those reps are what's going to prepare them for the games."

The coach also provided an update on highly touted freshman QB Mason Garcia, whose game eligibility is not yet determined but he is practicing. A key Pirate recruit from last season, defensive lineman Traveon Freshwater, was not eligible for games but able to practice throughout and focused on his academics to prepare to play as a redshirt freshman this season.

"Compliance is working with the NCAA, and we're hopeful," Houston said of Garcia, the top player in ECU's latest recruiting class signed in December. "It's a deal where I think it would help him if he were able to travel and to play a little bit this year. It's not the worst thing in the world if that doesn't happen. Our administration is working on that right now."

ECU held its second preseason practice Saturday in helmets, jerseys (no shoulder pads yet) and shorts.

Other notes from Saturday:

- It was a hot morning, which was made obvious as soon as Houston sat down to participate in his Zoom call with local media members.

"It was typical eastern North Carolina in August, which was good because we needed the heat," he said. "They really pushed themselves to practice at a much higher level with much better pursuit and just pushing through and playing fast. The heat beat down on them, so there was a point in practice where they really had to make some decisions. I was really pleased with the bulk of the roster in just how they pushed through. Day 2 was a positive improvement from Day 1."

- Practice ended with special teams drills.

- Players are lifting weights after practices. Those sessions are still being spaced out carefully to comply with indoor gathering restrictions.

"Our lifting is in small groups, from 2:30 p.m. all the way to dinner," Houston said. "There's a lot of coordination and organization that has to go in there to get that to run smoothly. We are lifting and running, both, during preseason camp."

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