1) Who will emerge as the starting linebackers? The Herd lost three starters and a key backup in Max Yates, Alonzo Jones, Michael Owens and Sam Goines. Charlie Tynes is the lone returning starter at this important position. Duran Smith returns for a senior year as do sophomores to be Kevin Atkins, J. T. Rembert, and Dionte Wilson and junior to be Gladstone Coke. Carlisle Johnson, a highly-touted player from Florida, begins practice this spring after sitting out a year to satisfy academic requirements. Also Demarcus Thomas who suffered a knee injury in the fall and was red-shirted could possibly participate some this spring but most likely wont do a lot until spring. There is a lot of young talent here and it should be a very good spring battle for a starting role.
2) Can the Herd shore up its defensive line? Marshall wasn't the toughest team in America to run against last season and at times didn't do a good job of pressuring quarterbacks with just the front four. At defensive tackle, look for Josh Cordell and Marlan Hicks to get the first looks here; Reggie Hayes and Toriano Brown will offer depth. A sleeper to watch here is Josh Blakey who moved from offense to defense for the GMAC Bowl and looked pretty good. Nathan Leslie should give depth at this position and Orlando Washington who started here last year and is reported to be going to defensive end could also stay inside at the tackle position. At the end positions look for Orlando Washington and Jamus Martin to play against the run and Maurice McKinney and Jonathan Goddard to play against the pass. Paul Sinclair gives depth to the position. I think and hope the front four will be more effective this year and look for a lot of situational position changes.
3) How good are the backup quarterbacks? In Byron Leftwich, Marshall has the best QB in college football. But how good are Stan Hill and Andrew English? Will one of these or both be good enough to take over for Leftwich in the future or if necessary next year for a time, if Byron was to be injured or will one of the three quarterback recruits have to step into a backup role next fall? I think the quarterbacks MU has now can do the job, but only time and a lot of reps this spring will tell.
4) Can depth be developed at wide receiver? Marshall's top four wide receivers are very good; in fact they are as good as anyone has, but the Herd needs a couple of players to step up and be the fifth and sixth receivers. Most likely candidates are Chris Martin, Brad Bates, and Chris Ray. These young men have the ability, but need to be more consistent and aggressive to become the top notch receivers the Marshall program is used to having. Red-shirt freshman Nate Manns is also very capable of becoming a highly regarded receiver.
5) Who will take over the left guard position? Look for Luke Salmons and Joey Stepp to battle for this position.
6) Who will replace Gregg Kellett at tight end? Kellett was a four year starter at the tight end position and will be missed, especially for his blocking. Eddie Smolder, a senior, Jason Rader, a junior transfer from Georgia, and sophomore Joe Deifel will fight for this position, along with freshman Chase Gibson. I look for Smolder to be used more as an H-back and for Rader to be the tight end, but these are all good athletes and this should be a good battle.
7) Who will supply depth in the defensive secondary? Marshall should be pretty good in the secondary with all three starters -Terence Tarpley, Yancey Satterwhite, and Chris Crocker- returning, but the question is who will be the backups? Moriah Anderson got a lot of play early last year at safety but then playing time tailed off near the end of the season. Roberto Terrell will be an excellent third cornerback and the fourth should come from the trio of Jimmy Tyson, Dorian Williams, or Renaldo Williams.
8) Can new defensive coordinator Bill Wilt and his staff find a way to stop the run? The defensive line needs to improve but also the linebackers need to do a better job filling holes and not over-running plays. Will the addition of new coach Phil Elmassian -who is an expert in the running of the 4-4 defense- help bring the Herd a top defense to go along with one of the nations finest offenses?
These are the questions that will be addressed over the next month in the football practices at Marshall Stadium. Hopefully, the right answers will be found to all the questions and Herd fans will enjoy another very successful season, another MAC Championship, another Bowl victory, and a very high finish in the final polls. These are the things Marshall fans have become accustomed to, the players and coaches expect, and what makes it a lot of fun to be a Marshall Thundering Herd football fan. GO HERD!!!
Greg Cyrus is a member of the Marshall football broadcasting team, and is a weekly columnist in the print version of Herd Insider.