First Week Of Spring Football In Books

Marshall has only one offensive lineman who started last year on the field and no starting receivers. Graham Gochneaur is the only quarterback able to scrimmage who has any real game experience and running back Earl Charles is not rushing against live tackling. Despite these limitations, MU coaches think the offensive side of the Marshall football team for 2004 is ahead of schedule after five days of spring practice.

Marshall will have more 6:30 a.m. practices on March 9,10,11 and then take the university's spring break, beginning March 12. When the students return to classes on Monday, March 22, practice will resume for Marshall's student-athletes on Tuesday, March 23, 24, 26, 27 and 31. The practices on the 11th and the 24th are pro scouts days. Practice on the Friday the 26th will take place in conjunction with the annual MU Football Coaches Clinic and is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Marshall will travel to South Charleston for the third consecutive year for the practice on March 27, at 10:00 a.m.

Marshall will have the final practice on April 1. The Annual Green-White Spring Football game is set for April 3 at 1:00 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Last year's starting quarterback Stan Hill is at each practice, helping coach and throwing in pass skeleton (offensive passing patterns against no defense) on Friday's practice, recovering very well from last season's knee injury. MU Quarterbacks coach Larry Kueck hopes to have Hill throw next week in "7-on-7" passing drills, where linebackers and defensive backs guard the offensive players. "Stan can help the younger quarterbacks as much as I can, once we get them to a certain point," said Kueck. "He has good days and bad days, with practice and rehab as far as his knee pain. We'll take it slow and hold Stan out in bad weather or on a slick field."

Fellow senior Graham Gochneaur, who replaced Hill in the lineup last year and led MU to the upset of number six Kansas State and two wins in the final two games of 2003 against UCF and Ohio, is battling a pack of eager youngsters who want to be the number two QB at MU. "Graham is the only guy with any real experience running our offense," said Kueck. "He is doing well, getting plenty of reps in practice." Sophomore Jimmy Skinner and freshmen Bernard Morris and Tim Besselo will try this spring to unseat Gochneaur as the backup QB for the Herd in 2004. "I think Jimmy Skinner is making big leaps in spring practice, just like he did at the end of last season," said Kueck. "Bernard Morris is struggling with learning our complex offensive scheme, like any freshman, but he has a chance to be real good. It's all about getting timing down and getting reps while not pressing. He has done lots of film work on his own and with Stan, and that's very encouraging.

"Tim is doing a good job, but there are a limited amount of reps in practice (for the fifth quarterback)," said Kueck. "But he pays attention in practice and sits up in the film room and those are very important for young players. When your players are young, and if they are good, you want to press them a little more but as coaches we have to be patient. You keep youngsters focused and concentrating on if we make a mistake today, fine, let's correct it and not make it again tomorrow." Sophomore Adam Black's ear canal perforation is healing and Black may return to the field, at least to watch, next week. "Adam may be the best of the group physically, if he can get healthy, "said Kueck. "Bryon Leftwich (former MU QB who now starts for the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL) always told me Black reminded Byron of himself, as a freshman. That's pretty high praise."

Running back Earl Charles, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season (the first MU back since Doug Chapman in 1998 to top 1,000 yards), is set as a starter in the backfield in 2004 and is sitting out of contact drills to protect him from a needless spring injury. The competition for a number two back is heating up among returnees Tank Tunstalle, Michael West, Will Albin, James Johnson (a transfer from Pittsburgh last season) and one former MU linebacker.

Donte' Newsome has been very impressive since he has been moved to running back, ala' Trod Buggs who pulled a similar move a couple of years ago for the Herd. A former Deep Creek High School running back, Newsome in 2001 rushed for 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns at his hometown school in Chesapeake, Virginia, and has been so impressive that "gray-shirt" freshman (who enrolled this January, but still will have five years to play four) Marcus Fitzgerald, brother of former Pittsburgh receiver Larry, was moved to wide receiver for Friday's practice.

Speaking of wide receiver, returning starter Josh Davis has been sidelined with an injury as has junior college senior Clarence Stanfield. This has given MU a chance to look at young receivers and thus far, the results have been good. Most observers have raved about 6-6, red-shirt freshman Shawn Lauzon, who caught a long pass for a touchdown this week. Other players stepping up included part-time players from last season like senior junior college transfer Tremel Guillory, sophomore Hiram Moore and junior Wilbur Hargrove.

The offensive line, hit by senior graduation of starters Nate McPeek, Luke Salmons and defections due to grades and personal reasons is thin, with only 10 players. Returning right tackle Nate Griffin (6-5, 335) will be moved to left tackle and will line up beside the other returning player, Toby Bullock (6-4, 335), who flipped to the left guard position. Bullock is out until after the spring break and currently is being replaced by Ryan Baynes, a 6-2, 325 pound junior.

At center, Miami, Ohio, transfer Zac Elcess (6-5, 285) and returning senior Jesse Saito (6-2, 300), who also plays guard, are splitting time in the spot held down by departed senior Joey Stepp. At the right guard, red-shirt freshman John Inman, 6-5, 310 pounds, is currently playing with both the first and second teams and on Friday, red-shirt freshman David Ziegler (6-5, 280) moved to the starting spot at right tackle in front of sophomore Seth Cook (6-4, 300). Moved to the OL from the defensive line are red-shirt freshman Nate Howard (6-4, 275) and Byron Tinker (6-4, 260).

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