Looming Questions for Spring Camp

It’s that time of year again. FOOTBALL IS BACK! With the 2014-15 basketball season coming to a close this past Wednesday night and Spring Camp quickly approaching it’s now time to turn all our focus back to football. As many players as we return there are still several questions that must be answered in order for us to keep the momentum going from the past two seasons.

Questions about the quarterback, center, wide receiver, defensive line, middle linebacker, and corner. All these positions lost great players and in some cases Marshall Hall of Fame locks. These players were record setters and leaders. Can we and will we be able to address these questions? Let’s take a look.

It’s not really debatable who the biggest loss from last season was. It’s the loss of Rakeem Cato at QB. He wasn’t just good. He was great. He laid waste to every number he could in the Marshall Record Book and even claimed some NCAA records. Biggest of all is going to be his leadership. Cato was looked up to by all the players. The drive and the heart this guy brought to the position is going to be a tall task to replace.

It’s a hard position to replace. To add some perspective think about this for a second. It took Marshall nine years to replace our last record setting QB. Our last great leader. That man was Byron Leftwich. So do we have the answer on campus right now? The staff has done an exceptional job at recruiting, especially at QB. This impending QB battle has the makings to be the most epic battle Marshall has ever had at this position.

The candidates to fill the void left by Cato are redshirt junior Gunnar Holcombe, redshirt junior Michael Birdsong who transferred in from JMU, redshirt freshman Cole Garvin, true freshman Chase Litton, and walk-on freshman Kyle Gallup. All of these guys were winners in high school. The staff believes all these guys are capable of taking over where Cato left off and one of them will be the next star to continue the lineage of stars to play QB at Marshall.

If you listened to Doc during his several interviews back on national signing day you heard him say that if he and the staff have done their jobs then the successor to Cato will be one of the upperclassman. He said he would prefer to redshirt Litton and develop him. That if we are starting a freshman at this point we are probably in trouble. If you think about it you can see his perspective. He doesn’t want to have to reign in an offense that has been one of the top offenses and the most balanced offense in the country for the last three seasons. He wants someone that is experienced to man the position.

As far as experience with the system goes Gunnar Holcombe holds the chips. He’s the only one to take live snaps and has been on campus and in the playbook for three seasons. He knows the reads and has the timing of the offense. Michael Birdsong and Cole Garvin have been here for one season, Litton arrived and started practice during bowl prep back in December, and Gallup yet to report as he is a 2015 class recruit.

Experience is great and all but Cato’s successor must have the ability to go with that knowledge. This is what is going to make this battle a fun one to watch. All these guys have the physical tools. From what we know and have seen to this point of Holcombe, Birdsong, Garvin, and Litton they have the physical tools. All will be an upgrade in arm strength from Cato and like Cato they are mobile. If the play breaks down they have the ability to create and make the defense pay.

I fully believe that no matter whoever comes out ahead in this battle this offense will be in good hands. They are all capable to wow the fans and continue to put up record numbers. This is probably the most confident I have felt about the quarterback positon since Chad Pennington handed the mantle to Byron Leftwich back in 2000.

The second most important vacancy on the 2015 Marshall Thundering Herd is the position giving the ball to the QB, the center. Everyone who knows anything about football knows just how crucial the center is to the success of the offense. One would assume that Nathaniel Devers has a shot to take over at center. Coming out of high school he was ranked as the 17th best center in the country. He has drawn praises from the staff since arriving on campus and was one of the most heralded signees from the 2014 class.

The other candidate that has been rumored to step in is junior Michael Selby. If you don’t know who Selby is then I must ask where you have been for the last year. This kid is an absolute animal. You could not keep this guy off the field last season. It didn’t matter how bad he was hurt he was going back in. The issue is no one on the roster has played a snap with the first team offense during a game because Jasperse never came off the field his entire time at Marshall. Jasperse had the most snaps at center in the country over the last four seasons. Whoever wins this job they need to come in and hit the ground running. If this position doesn’t have a smooth transition it could impede the success of the 2015 season.

I know some of those reading this may have been asking why I put wide receiver as a question mark for 2015. As a complete unit there are no questions talent wise. We all know about the studs we have in Angelo Jean-Louis, Deontay McManus, Devonte Allen, and Hyleck Foster. Also we know of the studs waiting in the wings like Emanuel Beal and Gator Green. The question is who is going to be the leader? Who is going to become the number one option that can be depended on to make the big play when it’s needed?

For the last four seasons Marshall was blessed with Tommy Shuler. He and Rakeem Cato had been playing pitch and catch since they were in grade school so of course their connection, their rhythm was never a question. Most thought they would be a deadly duo. However it was the leadership that Shuler brought to that wide receiver room. He was the guy all the other guys went to, looked up to, and listened to. He was the guy the coaches knew was going to step up and make the play to keep the chains moving. The talent is there and then some but who is going to be “the” guy. Who’s going to be the next Troy Brown, the next Mike Barber, the next Tim Martin, the next Randy Moss, the next Darius Watts, or the next Josh Davis? Who’s going to be the next Tommy Shuler?

The other two positions on offense are not that much of a question mark at. We know we have a stud at TE with Ryan Yurachek. The only issue is who will make up the depth behind him. He’s the dude at that spot but he will need a breather during games. Who will step in?

Running back is the second most solid position on the team outside of safety. We all know about the phenom, the monster, the beast that is Devon “Rockhead” Johnson and behind him the speedster Stew Butler, and the dependable Remi Watson. The question here is how will Rockhead’s shoulder heal and can he learn to be more judicious in how he hands out the punishment to defensive backs foolish enough to get in his path. He needs to learn that it’s alright to side step and use his deceptive agility. Although we love and he loves it not ever player in his path needs to be demolished.

Now let’s turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball. We lost some studs off this side. Players that have been anchoring their positions and being leaders in their respective rooms since the day they stepped on campus. Like on offense these players are Sunday players. The defensive line is the one with the most questions because we lost the most starters.

Gone is defensive tackle James Rouse and gone are defensive ends Arnold Blackmon and Ra’Shawde Meyers. We still have some good players at DT in senior Jarquez Samuel and Steve Dillon. Both will be expected to step their game up another level this season. With the departure of Rouse and the attention he was getting from the opposing offense someone is going to have to step up to cause the problems necessary to open it up for other guys to make plays. Someone has to disrupt that offensive line and occupy extra blockers.

Tomell One stepped up in 2014 to show he has a future at defensive tackle. Also we will be adding non qualifiers Nyquan “Big Money” Harris and Jason Smith along with redshirt freshman Jordan Dowrey. You have guys from the 2015 class coming in like Channing Hames. Can he be a factor this season? Time will tell. He has the hype that’s for sure.

The other guy at the defensive tackle position is former University of Miami transfer and senior Ricardo Williams. Will he be back at tackle or will he be moved outside to the end position? There has been some talk of this happening. Someone is going to have to step up outside. Returning at the defensive end position are redshirt senior Armonze Daniel, redshirt junior Joe Massaquoi, super freak sophomore Jerome Dews, UCF transfer and redshirt sophomore Blake Keller, and redshirt freshman Ryan Bee.

Daniel came in with so much hype. He was considered one of the best linebackers in the nation coming out back in 2011 and had several P5 offers. Due to size and athleticism and the need he was moved to defensive end. He has struggled for the most part learning how to play with his hand on the ground but did show flashes in 2014 and the coaches have been pleased with his progression during bowl prep. Massaquoi played solid minutes last year and shows promise. He had some highlight reel worth hits last season that left us wanting more and excited about his future.

Jerome Dews’ get off is out of this world. He can get out of his stance and to the QB like a sprinter getting out of the blocks. He was recruited to Tennessee as a linebacker then came in to Marshall as a safety then moved to linebacker, then eventually to defensive end. It isn’t because he can’t nail down a position due to struggles. He can legitimately play all three positions. His only drawback is his size. He’s 6’4” and under 220lbs. If he can bulk up he can become a nightmare for opposing offenses. Then you have newcomers like Keller and Bee along with incoming freshman like Damien Dozier who drew praise from the staff during workouts after arriving in January. Keller led the Knights in sacks before deciding to leave the program so he should factor in.

There is plenty of talent along the defensive line. The question is who will be able to apply their talent with consistency that the staff demands in order to garner playing time. Time will tell and it is going to be a fun group to watch.

Linebacker is pretty solid right now. We still have seniors Evan McKelvey who is returning from a knee injury and D.J. Hunter. These guys will be the unquestioned leaders. What we lost was a four year starter at middle linebacker in Jermaine Holmes, Neville Hewitt who was the stud of the group, and Raheem Waiters. These losses will be felt. All three were important players for the Herd.

The player that figures to take over for Holmes is Maryland transfer Shawn Petty. Petty is a freak athlete. So much so that when injuries plagued the Terrapins he filled in at QB. He has the smarts, the talent, and the size to take over where Holmes left off. Stefan Houston had a phenomenal freshman campaign but seemed to hit a wall in 2014. The sophomore slump if you will. He has the talent to be a stud and play on Sundays the only question is can he find his 2013 self.

Another player that has promise for 2015 is Raheim Huskey. The staff didn’t think he would play much as a freshman but fast forward to the CUSA Championship and the Boca Bowl and Huskey was looking like a man amongst boys. If he can pick up where he left of in 2014 then the sky is the limit for him. In 2015 we saw the signing of some talented linebackers in Marquis Couch, George Davis, Doyle Grimes, Devontre’a Tyler, and Ty Tyler. Once it shakes out who is eligible for the 2015 season we will see which one of these promising players can out play their redshirts.

If you’ll notice there is one player missing. One ballyhooed player. A player we all thought would come in day one and straight dominate. That player is Kent Turene. At one time he was coveted by just about every major program from the SEC to the Pac-12. At one point USC thinks he’s theirs and then Georgia signs him and he is regarded as the gem in their 2011 class.

However Turene did not qualify and instead enrolled with the Herd. So here we are in 2015 and Turene has yet to hit the field. Why? Injuries. Unfortunate and freak injuries. In camp of his freshman season he fractures an ankle that requires surgery to correct. Then he makes it back and injures his fingers needing surgery yet again and unable to play. Turene will be a junior in 2015 and figures to be a lock to get a year back. The question is can he catch up to the other guys and stay healthy and live up to his promise. From all accounts he is working hard and his wanting to get on that field badly. Time will tell. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Kent.

One of the biggest losses on defense was at cornerback with the loss of Darryl “Swagg” Roberts. Roberts has been making plays and locking guys down for the Herd since he stepped on campus. No one will ever forget when he intercepted ECU’s QB in 2011 to secure the Herd’s bowl berth. The question is who steps up in his place. There’s redshirt senior Keith Baxter, redshirt junior Corey Tindal, junior Michael Johnson, redshirt sophomore Chocolate Wilson, and surprise sophomore Antavis Rowe. Can one of these guys step up and be the Herd’s #1 lockdown corner.

The one tasked with taking away the opposing team’s best wide receiver? Baxter is a legacy player with much talent but has been bitten by the injury bug, Tindal can be an absolute terror out there but seems to be best served at the nickel back position, Johnson was a former FSU lock until flipping to the Herd on national signing day in 2013 but has yet to live up to his billing, Wilson is a talented player who was earning his stripe on special teams, and Rowe was a surprise from last season. One of these guys must step up and accept the role that Swagg held down for so long.

If they can’t there are some promising freshman that signed with the Herd back in February. Those players include Roosevelt Lawrence, Hakeem Bailey, Von Davis, and Antonio Howard. There are still eligibility questions amongst this group of incoming freshman but once that irons out they should put plenty of pressure on the incumbent players. Howard figures to be the one with the highest probability of starting right away. He has the speed and the talent to be a stud at corner. He has legit 4.3 speed and had offers from several P5 schools. Including a certain “school” from up north that Doc flipped him from in the closing hours leading up to national signing day.

Last but certainly not least the safety position. If not running back the safety position is the most solid position on the Herd’s depth chart. With returning studs in redshirt junior A.J. Leggett, senior Taj Letman, junior Tyquan Lang, and rising sophomore Kendall Gant we should expect nothing but top shelf performance from this position. It’s because of these guys are secondary carries the nickname “No Flyzone”. Pretty much nothing to see here other than business as usual. This is the only position on the Herd’s depth chart that has zero questions. Well other than how many INTs are coming from this group in 2015.

As you can see there are plenty of things to keep your eye on going into spring camp and plenty of storylines that will continue to develop. One thing is for sure. This is shaping up to be one of the most interesting camps in recent memory.

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