Special Teams Dominates Practice No. Five

Marshall got an early start on special teams, thanks to no classes at MU on Wednesday for "assessment day" at the University through 4 p.m. The Herd paired its players, coaches, managers and trainers into "Green" and "White" teams for a special teams scrimmage, starting about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday after an hour of individual and team work in practice number five of the spring. Punting and kicking dominated the rest of the practice, with some surprising results.

Ian O'Connor punted and placekicked for the White team, while Marty Biagi punted and juco newcomer Anthony Binswanger handled the kicking chores for the Green. By the end of the day, nothing was really settled, except that O'Connor made 7-of-10 attempts (with one block and one miss-handled snap) for 21 points for the White. Binswanger was 6-for-8 (with one blocked and three miss-handled snaps) for 18 points for the Green, which had to run the stadium steps for losing the scrimmage. Biagi dropped a couple of snaps, but most of the problems were with new snapper Brent Riffey, who snapped for both teams. On kickoffs, Binswanger chased Ahmad Bradshaw five yards into the end zone for a touchback, while O'Connor kicked two pop-ups fair caught at the 22 and the 29 by the Green.

O'Connor punted 11 times, with an average of 45.7 yards per punt, and was roughed once. Mike Cummings was head coach of the winning White team. "Ian really did a great job today," said Cummings, normally the offensive line coach of the Herd. "Especially showed he was a performer by kicking those two punts out of the end zone and getting us great field position." O'Connor's best punts of the day were a 70-yarder, when the White was backed up to the nine-yard line, and then a 50-yard punt from his own 48 that pinned the Green at the two-yard line. "This is a battle of field position, and we won the battle today." O'Connor finished the scrimmage with two 68-yard punts from the one-yard line, in the face of a full rush. "You got to love days like this, with the emphasis on special teams," said O'Connor after the scrimmage. "It started out rough (with two blocks early), with guys not used to their positions (as blockers on special teams). It's always nice when you can get the wind at your back. The longer the ball is out of your hand into the wind the more it can blow sideways." As far as placekicking, O'Connor said he spent the winter re-evaluating his kicking. "It's been up-and-down, but every day I try and get better. Coach Gobels has me working on my urgency." O'Connor also had the hit of the day, putting a bone-jarring stop on Chubb Small to stop a possible return for touchdown.

"I thought the kids competed well," said losing head coach Thielen Smith, the Herd defensive line coach. "We asked some guys to do things they don't normally do, but they really competed. The biggest thing I liked about our team was we didn't let Bradshaw break one. And Chubb (Small) ran well, we didn't let the ball hit the ground." Hiram Moore of the Green team had one block on the day, while fellow receiver Robert Surratt, a red-shirt freshman, had two blocked kicks and a special teams tackle. "Yes, they told us what to do about one hour before we came out here," said Moore, the senior receiver from local Huntington High school. "We just came out here and played hard. It gives a lot of the younger guys a chance to prove they can help us on special teams, make the travel squad."

Biagi punted 12 times for a 40.75 average for the Green. Also blocking a kick were White players Bradshaw and Ivan Clark, who head coach Mark Snyder has called my "special teams specialist." Two fake punts went for a zero gain for the White, with Bradshaw running the ball, and for minus-five, with quarterback Bernie Morris fumbling the ball off a bad snap, recovered by E.J. Rascoe, but that recovery was called back for White offsides. Also recovering a fumble was Matt Parkhurst for the Green.

Emmanuel Spann returned five punts for the White, averaging 2.6 per return, and had one muff inside his own 20-yard line. Small had seven returns for 44 yards, with a long of 12 yards, and Bradshaw had just one return, a muff from the 10 to the three, which he then returned to the seven. Leading all tacklers was red-shirt freshman linebacker John Jacobs with three solos and an assist. Defensive end Albert McCellan was injured on a tackle, and appeared to be favoring his right arm and shoulder. Also making tackles on special teams were senior linebacker Dennis Thorton, red-shirt frosh receiver Antonio Leath, senior linebacker Brandon Souder, sophomore defensive back James Johnson, red-shirt frosh receiver Darryl Jones and sophomore fullback Cody Tominack.

The Herd will return to practice on Friday at 3:30 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, scheduled in full pads. The Herd will work out in Charleston, W.Va. on Saturday, April 8, at Noon at University of Charleson Stadium at Laidley Field. The Herd baseball team will also be in Charleston on Saturday, taking on the Memphis Tigers at Appalachian Power Park, just minutes from Laidley Field, at 2 p.m., part of a day-night doubleheader at the home of the West Virginia Power. The Power will face Delmarva at 7 p.m., and your MU baseball ticket is good for both games. Call 1-800 THE HERD or check out www.Herdzone.com for practice and ticket information.

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