The off season is long, and sometimes quite boring. This past week there was an interesting discussion on the main board titled “No Changes,” see link below. One of our members, RockinHerdFan, poses seven valid concerns/questions which resulted in a poor season last year. Herdhaven takes a look at each topic, and looks ahead to see what, if anything was done about it.
1. The lack of quality corners:
2016: The season started off with the program in a big time hole at the cornerback position. First off, expected returning starter Corey Tindal left for the NFL. Marshall also lost senior Keith Baxter, but even with that, fully expected to have Antavis Rowe, Speedy Howard, and Rodney Allen battling for the starting spot. The Herd also expected to return safety/nickel back Tiquan Lang to the defense. Rowe quit the team, Howard left the team, and Lang was kicked off the team. That left Allen, mid year enrollee Chris Jackson, and grad transfer Terry Richardson from Michigan to man the spots.
Rodney Allen – 76 tackles, 2 interceptions, 12 pass break ups and 4 forced fumbles
Chris Jackson – 41 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 9 pass break ups
Terry Richardson – 22 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 pass break ups, mostly from the nickel
Jaylen McClain Sapp – 4 tackles and 2 pass break ups
2017: Spring practice begins next month. Marshall will return both starters at the corner position in Allen and Jackson, but there will be additional competition. Mid year JC transfer Kereon Merrell, from Dodge City, will be practicing this spring and the coaching staff loves his ability. McClain-Sapp will also be pushing for playing time as will redshirt freshman Jestin Morrow who has been with the program since last summer and is a very athletic, very fast corner from Hilton Head Island High School, he was rated three stars by scout.com The numbers will be light at the position, but the talent level should be much better. With Merrell and Morrow really pushing Jackson, and with Jackson already having 12 games under his belt, things should be looking up for the Herd in 2017 at the corner spot.
2. Lack of playmakers at the wide receiver position and the running back position.
The one thing that one must like about this staff is they truly seem to be able to pin point problems and work towards a solution. Such is the case in the situation of the need of playmakers at the wide receiver position. Last year, Deontay McManus and Michael Clark were unable to get open, and when they did, they were unable to go up and make enough plays down field. Clark showed flashes of brilliance but really seemed to fall prey to not being able to take a loss without blaming others. Has the problem been fixed?
Doc Holliday and his staff have this position loaded with talent heading into this season, and several will be on campus for spring practice. Marshall only returns Gator Green and Willie Johnson that saw any series playing time at all last season at the wide receiver position. Green ended with 7 catches for 45 yards, and Johnson had 4 for 52 before an injury cut his season short just four games in. Marshall also returns freshman speedster Brandon Rodgers who was worked into the rotation late in the year but didn’t record a reception.
The big additions will be available for your viewing pleasure this spring. Tyre Brady, a big time transfer from Miami of Florida has been practicing with the Herd since August and should step in as the go to threat. He was arguably the best receiver on the team last year but was unable to play. Junior College slot wide receiver Marcel Williams should step in right where Josh Knight left off last year. Williams is a little smaller, but faster and quicker and should provide a needed spark out of the slot. Four star, former UCLA commit, Darian Owens will be on the practice field this spring. The 6’2” inch wide out should compete for playing time at one of the outside spots. Also, Willie Johnson returns from injury. Three star, former Mississippi State commit, Monterio Hunt will join the team this summer.
3. We were young at DT and those guys got exposed with more playing time.
Last season the Herd expected to start the year with Tomell One as the stalwart at the DT position, flanked by Nyquan Harris, Joe Massaquoi, or Jason Smith. One was suspended the first four games of the year, then, after playing three games, unexpectedly, quit the team. That left Harris and Smith to man the position. Harris was injured late in the year, and Malik Thompson was moved back from the offensive line to the defensive side of the ball, where he will now stay. The position was very thin, as Channing Hames took a little longer than expected to break in. Strength in numbers should help the Herd at this position this year.
Nyquan Harris – 33 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks
Jason Smith – 23 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, .5 sacks, 4 pass break ups and 1 blocked kick. Smith really showed his athletic ability with those last two stats. 4 pass break ups for a not overly tall DT is impressive.
Channing Hames – 8 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack
Malik Thomson – 3 tackles and one fumble recovery
Aaron Dopson – 2 tackles and one fumble recovery.
2017: Marshall returns all the aforementioned players. In addition Marshall will have 2016 non qualifier Larry Aaron added to the mix this summer. Aaron should provide much needed help and depth to this positon. The Herd also has Joey Maddox. Maddox is a walk on, transfer from Savannah State. Maddox came here last year with his brother Jeremiah. Maddox has moved from the offense to the defense a couple times, and appears to be settling in at the defensive tackle position. Maddox is very strong and has an excellent pedigree as his father was a very good player as well. Herdhaven.com prediction is that both Maddox and Malik Thompson have very good years on the defensive front providing both depth and production to a position that was in need.
4. Undersized center and left guard playing along the line, constantly giving up 25 to 30 pounds to the men they are trying to block.
I would say that Levi Brown, at center, was the least of this offensive lines concerns. The injuries on the right side of the line, which should have been the strength of the unit, were devastating. Both Michael Selby and Clint Van Horn, when playing, were playing at less than 70 percent. The line started to get somewhat better late in the year, when healthy. Alex Locklear provided some good play on that side of the ball. Brown was expected to be able to learn alongside the experienced Selby, that was not the case.
5. Bill Legg’s play calling. Without superior talent on offense, Legg is too predictable and cannot out scheme the opposing coach. If Docs only change on the staff was Legg, I would be satisfied.
Hard to argue here, however, that is really the case with 9 out of every 10 offensive coordinators. For the most part, they are only as good as the players playing for them. Injuries hurt this team on both sides of the ball last year. That was the case on offense as well. Chase Litton was hurt early in the year versus Akron, Willie Johnson went out early, Ryan Yurachek played hurt the bulk of the season. In addition, for whatever reason, Holliday admitted that the talent and speed wasn’t there, so they went out and fixed it. See the addition of Owens, Brady, Hunt, and Williams.
In short, Legg puts up points and numbers when the talent is there. With the returning quarterbacks having another year under their built, and being bigger, fast and stronger, and the addition of the wide outs, the talent is now here. The running back position will be key, and the addition of Tre Rodriguez should be a huge addition to a position deep in numbers. Anthony Anderson came on strong late, and Tyler King should add some Butler/Grimes type of speed. The tight end position should remain a strength, as long as Ryan Yurachek is targeted more. Twenty eight catches last year was way too low.
6. Lack of a quality back up quarterback.
The lack of a quality back up quarterback did not really hurt the Herd last year or cause the record to be any worse. The fact is, Chase Litton is a very good quarterback with a huge upside. He had a solid year, and arguably, didn’t cost the Herd any games. Back up quarterbacks played against Louisville, and Western Kentucky. The fact that a back up quarterback played probably did not cost Marshall either game. Louisville was a top 10 team, and Western Kentucky was very good, and in addition the Herd played without several other players listed as starters or on the two deep. Many, myself included, went in to the season figuring that Litton would win the job and the second best quarterback would redshirt. Highly regarded four star, Xavier Gaines, redshirted last year.
7. A lack of a quality place kicker. Doc brought in a JUCO kicker, be he couldn’t beat out the guys who were already here. How many times last year were we in field goal range and had to either punt or go for it on 4th down because we couldn’t trust the kicker would make the kick? How many empty possessions resulted from not having a good kicker?
Not much of an argument here other than the fact the staff realized going in to last season that there could/would be a problem at kicker. Amoreto Curraj has a huge leg, no accuracy, and Nick Smith seemed to lose the trust of the staff after the MTSU game. They recognized the issue and brought in a JC kicker who could compete immediately. Unfortunately, Grayson Pontius was unable to win the job, was redshirted, and eventually left the program in the off season. Realizing there was still a major issue here, the staff went out and brought in a Parade All American kicker in Cole Phillips. Phillips should be able to step in and compete from day one.
Wrapping up. Excellent questions and concerns by one of our faithful members, RockinHerdFan. Doc Holliday told Marshall fans 7 years ago that he was here to build a program for everyone to be proud of. Last year was a terrible year, and unacceptable season in the eyes of fans, coaches, administrators, and players. The good thing is, this staff now gets to show that they know how to fix things. Based on the make up of this years recruiting class, the second highest rated class in CUSA by the way, they have found a way to improve in those areas lacking.
Feel free to post questions on the forum, and we will attack them each week.
Stay tuned to Herdhaven.com for further updates and stories.