Practice, Practice, Practice

One practice remains before Doc Holliday and his staff tie a bow around the 2012 spring football season with the annual Green and White Game this Saturday at 2pm. Tickets and parking spots are still available through the school's official athletic website at herdzone.com.

The annual Big Green Dinner, slated for Friday night with a plethora of returning Marshall football stars in attendance, is reportedly sold out.

The past three practice sessions have been intense, and a whirlwind of events was sandwiched in between. Last Thursday I was unable to attend, however, the consensus seems to be that the Herd continued to storm through April with yet another solid practice. Reports of Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler hooking up over and over spread throughout Herd fans.

The starting units remained the same with the exception of the linebackers. At linebacker, for the past two weeks, there has been a continuous rotation of those running with the first unit. That list pretty much has included Billy Mitchell, Devin Arrington, Jermaine Holmes, Armonze Daniel, Deon Meadows, T.J. Ross, and Cortez Carter. The only one that has been out there with each first team unit has been the senior, Arrington.

Saturday marked arguably the most important scrimmage of the season. Thinking back to the days of Mark Snyder, we always heard that this was the scrimmage that really worked to set an off season depth chart, as the spring game turned out to be more for show rather than for work. That could be different with Holliday, as we would not really know at this point due to two years ago being his first spring, and last year being cut short to really bad rain.

The scrimmage got jump started on the opening drive as senior Martin Ward ripped off long, tough run, after long tough run. Mix in passes from Cato to his starting receiving corp of Demetrius Evans, Tommy Shuler and Craig Wilkins, the senior trio of Aaron Dobson, Antavious Wilson and Andre Booker received limited reps throughout the approximately one hundred play scrimmage. The offense moved right down the field before stalling before getting into the endzone.

The starting offense lined up from left to right on the line with Gage Niemeyer, Josh Lovell, Channing Smith, Chris Jasperse and the return of Garrett Scott. The return of Scott really seemed to lead to an excellent day both on the ground and through the air for the Herd offense. The left side of the line with Niemeyer and Lovell appears to be set for the fall and 100% solid. Lovell is very strong, and very talented. Currently Smith is the number one center, however, the fall will see the return of sixth year senior and returning starter John Bruhin. It is currently unclear whether this will force Jasperse out of the lineup, or back to the center position. Jasperse is battling some nagging back injuries, but appears to be really bouncing back quickly and better than ever. One thing is for certain, the offensive line should be very solid from left to right and all points in between.

The starting tight ends continued to be Gator Hoskins and Eric Frohnapfel. Frohnapfel made multiple catches and runs. On one particular play he took the pass in the flat, shed a tackle from defensive end RaShawde Myers and raced down the side line. Frohnapfel appears much more athletic and fast than last season, as should be expected since he is now a sophomore to be.

Tommy Shuler had a huge day. I am not sure of his exact catches and receiving yards, although I would guess around 12 catches for 150 yards. However, I do know that he snagged four touchdown passes. One of which, came on a bullet slant pattern thrown by Cato over two linebackers hands, and in the tiniest of windows. Shuler caught the ball with his hands, as the pass was thrown on a rope.

Thus far, the two scrimmages have seen Cato flourish, and has seen two separate wide receivers step up and shine. Both receivers are young, and are not one of the three projected starters, which just goes to add to the expected depth at that position. Shuler was the star this week, grey shirt freshman Chris Alston was the star last week.

On defense, the safeties, even though Cato and Blake Frohnapfel combined to throw for seven touchdowns, played well. Zach Dunston and D.J. Hunter got the start, Dunston had a very athletic interception of Cato on an attempted seam pass to Eric Frohnapfel. Dunston snagged it with one hand, came down and immediately began returning the ball back up field. Dunston was moved in to the first unit early in camp, and does not seem to want to give the job back to anyone. Evan McKelvely and Derrick Mitchell are trying to push, but thus far, to no avail.

The aforementioned running back, Martin Ward also had an excellent day. Ward ended up rushing for over 150 yards on minimal carries. Ward has had a strong spring, however returning starters Travon Van and Tron Martinez are being held out of camp. Note: Since this practice, Ward was arrested for a disturbance early Sunday Morning. Ward has been released and his punishment will be handled internally.

Practice number 13 began and ended under beautiful skies and mild temperatures on Tuesday. As mentioned earlier, it had been a whirlwind week for the program. A great scrimmage in front of a nice crowd on Saturday, then on Sunday morning, four players were arrested. The four were Ward, freshman defensive back Corie Wilson, freshman defensive end Stefone Grace, and sophomore to be Phillip Warren. Warren has been dismissed from the team, both Wilson and Grace were in attendance at practice on Tuesday.

Grace appears to have been moved to the defensive end position at this time. Although a little light right now, Grace has shown the ability to grow the past two years. A couple years ago Grace was a project to say the least. He was a tall wide receiver weighing in at only 180 pounds. Since then he has put on weight and moved to linebacker, and now on to defensive end.

The starting defensive unit on Tuesday consisted of Jeremiah Taylor and Alex Bazzie at defensive end, Brandon Sparrow and Blake Brooks at defensive tackle. The linebackers were Arrington, Carter, and Holmes. Safeties were Dunston and Hunter. Defensive backs were Monterius Lovett and Darryl Roberts, with Keith Baxter getting a lot of first team reps in place of both guys at this point. As he gets healthier, it appears that Baxter will be tough to keep out of the lineup. As a sophomore, Baxter really needs to impress now, before the arrival of A.J. Leggett, Andre Scott and Shawn Samuels this summer.

The first play in 9 on 9 running play drills showed why Carter is making an impact at linebacker. The play was a hand off to walk on Kevin Rodriguez, Carter shot into the gap like a bowling ball and drove the walk on backwards. This continued throughout that session as the defensive line and linebackers dominated.

The starting offensive line consisted as usual of Niemeyer, Lovell, Smith, Jasperse and Scott. Quarterback of course was Cato, with Wilson, Dobson and Booker at wide receiver, Hoskins at tight end.

There are a few things that I have began to notice each practice. I am beginning to realize that these are not just odd occasions, but quickly becoming the norm and what should be expected.

One is the intensity of practice, and the seriousness that these guys are taking each session with. For example, one play stood out during a simple pass and catch drill yesterday. In the past, when a receiver drops a ball, they will sometimes be forced to go back to the end of the line and do it again. They would often scoff, and walk back. Yesterday, on a drill where the receivers ran a little short hook route, Demetrius Evans drove toward the coach, planted, slipped, but still caught the ball. He handed the ball back to the staff, and sprinted back to the line, and ran it again, on his own, making sure his feet were right. This is the type of thing that has went on all spring.

Two, is the wide receivers. They are good. All the way down the depth chart, they have athletic ability, but more importantly, they are catching everything. I cannot get over how good Evans and Craig Wilkins have been this spring. The odd thing is, those guys are not starting, nor are they part of the duo that has set the past two scrimmages on fire. Just shows the depth that Cato and company will have to throw to this season.

Finally, the offensive line, has looked sometimes dominate. They are making time for Cato to throw the ball. All of the passes have not just been dump downs, at times, Cato has went crazy with down the field throws on play after play. When given time, Cato has the ability to rip teams apart. With the receivers improving, and that includes the tight ends, the offense should do nothing but build on those three wins at the end of the season. Although they weren't going for 500 yards a night, they proved that they could go put points on the board when they needed to in order to win.

The team and staff will report back to the Joan on Thursday for their 14th and final practice prior to the Green and White game on Saturday. Again, tickets and parking passes are still available.

Stay tuned for further updates from herdhaven.com

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