"Whatever it is, they're all going to play," said Gale of his linebackers in 2002, on Thursday morning. Marshall's football team did not practice on Thursday morning, but rather went through a regularly scheduled weight-lifting session.
Gale is faced with replacing the MAC's defensive player of the year in Max Yates, plus the very talented Sam Goines and Alonzo Jones.
"If you talk to a majority of the coaches across the country, they'll say you need to be strong down the middle," said Gale. And what is surprising is that this year's MU linebackers may be just as strong as the three departed seniors. There is no lack of real-game experience, nor a lack of physical skills. Plus, according to Gale, the entire group is acting like a unit and they are eager to learn just three days into spring drills.
"It's like they're disappointed when a (linebackers) meeting is over," said Gale. "You see them coming in and watching film on their own."
"If the next 41 practices go as well for these guys as the first 3 did, I think we're going to be in pretty good shape."
Duran Smith (6-0, 225) is a solid, experienced senior who should step in at the middle linebacker spot. "When he has started, he's performed well," said Gale.
Duran Smith (48) showed a sign of things to come in last year's spring Green-White game, with this interception return for a TD.
At the 'whip' linebacker spot, both Terence Tarpley (5-10, 185) and Gladstone Coke (5-11, 195) bring what seems like more experience than their senior and junior status, respectively. Most MU fans will swear both Tarpley and Coke have been on the roster for the last five years. Their talents are known and respected.
Terence Tarpley (21) brings about as much experience as one senior can to the defensive secondary.
Kevin Atkins (6-3, 236), Dionte Wilson (6-2, 220), and J.T. Rembert (6-1, 216) are the trio of sophomores who gained valuable game experience in 2001, including the fourth quarter of the GMAC Bowl in December. These guys have been in pressure situations, and should perform well.
Damarcus Thomas (6-1, 228) is a freshman who suffered a minor knee injury in 2001. Gale pointed out that so far, in non-contact drills, Thomas has been impressive. "He really showed us a lot of things last year, until he hurt his knee and had ACL surgery," said Gale. "We're excited about his progress coming back from knee surgery.
Carlos Morgan, a little-known prospect who should be practicing this summer with the MU squad, is the one to keep your eye on as the season gets closer. More will be gleaned on Morgan's abilities this summer, but Gale did say, "We're really excited about getting him on the field and seeing what he can do."
Granted, MU did lose three great linebackers in Yates, Jones, and Goines. However, the current group is ripe with experience and talent, and Gale doesn't foresee them missing a beat in the transition over the spring and summer. "When they go to Blacksburg (VA Tech), it won't be the first time they've stepped foot in a hostile environment. These guys have all been in that atmosphere and have participated in games in that type of atmosphere," Gale said. "Dionte (Wilson) was playing in the fourth quarter of the bowl game. That was intentional."
Yes, Marshall lost three talented linebackers last year. But to see Gale beaming when talking about this group and their rabid desire in spring drills, one just can't help but feel that the Marshall defense will not miss a beat (at least at linebacker) in 2002.