Herd Football Cranks Up Spring Ball March 27

Marshall students will largely be out of town next week, as MU takes its annual spring vacation. For the Thundering Herd football team, it is a final time to blow off some steam before returning to the field on March 27 with the first of 15 scheduled spring football practices, culminating with the Green-White Spring Game on April 21 - 3 p.m. The Herd returns 15 starters but some positions to fill.

Coach Mark Snyder begins his third season, but only second spring after replacing former coach Bob Pruett on the final practice of spring football in April of 2005, with some questions on defense and offense and none bigger than who will replace All-Conference USA running back Ahmad Bradshaw. The Herd junior, who led the league in rushing and rushing touchdowns, declared early for the National Football League Draft and hopes to spend April getting ready for a career in the professional ranks. Marshall must replace Bradshaw with either junior Chubb Small, who rushed for 193 yards last year (4.6 yards per carry) and led the Herd in kickoff returns with 18 for 361 yards (20.1 yards per return) or junior Kelvin Turner, who had just five carries in 2006 for 17 yards. Fullbacks Will Albin and Matt Parkhurst, who did not have a carry last year as blockers although Albin did have three receptions, return to lead the way in the backfield after blocking Bradshaw to over 1,500 yards in 2006.

Marshall returns fullback Will Albin, shown with a reception at Tennessee, but must replace starting tailback Ahmad Bradshaw who declared early for the NFL Draft.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff

Marshall also not only lost both starting offensive tackles in Seth Cook and Wesley Jones but also lost top back-up Chris Barnes, who started three games. Marshall will return the middle three on the offensive line as far as starters in first team All-C-USA center Doug Legursky and guards David Ziegler (who will sit out of spring drills) and Brian Leggett, and Matt Altobello moves from guard to center to backup Legursky. John Inman gets the nod at the top of the depth chart at left tackle to start spring, while Daniel Baldridge, all 6-foot-9, 315 pounds of him, gets to go at right tackle. Backing up Inman is red-shirt frosh Brandon Campbell whil Baldridge will be pushed by converted tight end Joe Bragg and red-shirt freshman Erik Vint. Josh Evans moves to the top of the chart at left guard with Ziegler out and will be backed up by fellow red-shirt freshman Chad Schofield, while Leggett is back at right guard.

Cody Slate put Marshall on the board with this seven yard touchdown against Central Florida on the way to Freshman all-conference and All-American honors.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff

The Herd got better at receiver in January when junior college transfer Darrius Passmore joined the team after signing in the spring of 2006. Passmore, from the College of the Sequoias, adds the 4.4 speed Marshall has missed in a deep threat and should add to a strong group that includes junior Emmanuel Spann (38-for-383, 10.1 yards per catch and three touchdowns), senior Marcus Fitzgerald (12-160, 13.3 ypc, 1 td), 6-foot-6 senior Shaun Lauzon, who missed all but one game with a hip injury, and sophomore Courtney Edmonson (5-104, 20.8 ypc, 1 td). Tight end, already a strength with All-Conference USA , All-C-USA Freshman team and All-American All-Frosh teams honor-winner Cody Slate. Slate led MU with 43 catches for 685 yards and six touchdowns, averaging a team-best among regulars 15.9 yards per catch. Also back is senior Brian Shope, who caught eight for 115 yards last year. The Herd will add former four-star Tennessee recruit in transfer sophomore Lee Smith as well as David Redick, converted QB Nick Newell and Patrick Kouns.

Marshall quarterback Bernard Morris returns for his senior season as the starting quarterback going into spring football. While Morris was second in rushing in 2006 for Herd, MU coaches are looking for fewer interceptions and more touchdown passes in 2007 at quarterback.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff

Quarterback play has been on the mind of all Herd fans and it was inconsistent last season. Bernard Morris returns for his senior year, after leading the Herd with 11 starts at QB, throwing for 1,346 yards (116-of-188, 62 percent) with eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions and being the No. 2 rusher on the team (82-for-324 yards, 4,0 ypc, 2 td). Jimmy Skinner is gone, playing for the indoor Huntington Heroes football team, and takes eight touchdowns and four interceptions with him, along with 878 yards and a 60 percent completion percentage. Bradshaw will be challenged by sophomore Wesley Beardain and red-shirt freshman Brian Anderson. Marshall just added a transfer from Georgia Tech in Johnathan Garner, who threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns for Mainland H.S. in Florida in 2004, taking the school to the 5A semi-finals, before originally choosing Tech over Louisville, Mississippi and Memphis of C-USA. Garner will have to set out 2007, with two years to play in 2008-09.

On the defensive side, new defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap can start with Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Albert McClellan. The junior end led the league in tackles for loss and sacks last year (19.0 & 11.5) and was fourth in overall tackles on MU. Joining him as 2006 starter are fellow defensive end in senior Byron Tinker, two linebackers in juniors Josh Johnson and Ian Hoskins and three of four defensive back starters: sophomore Zearrick Mathews, an honorable mention on one Frosh All-American team, and juniors C.J. Spillman and J.J. Johnson. The Herd must find replacements for safety Curtis Keyes, nickel Dennis Thornton, linebacker Matt Couch and linemen Juan Underwood and Shavar Greer.

Josh Johnson, shown here rushing UTEP QB Jordan Palmer in the second half of the 2006 Herd win, returns at middle linebacker for Marshall.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff

As it stands going into spring, McClellan (77 tackles) will be joined at end by sophomore John Jacobs (17 tackles, sack), with red-shirt freshmen Chad Clay and Michael Janac backing the starters up. At tackle, Tinker (39 tackles, 8 tfl, 4.5 sacks) is backed up by Bilal El-Amin (13 tackles, tackle for loss) while a pair of junior college players will battle at the other tackle in senior Ryland Wilson (11 tackles for MU in '06) and junios Montel Glasco, who signed in December. At linebacker, where Dunlap will coach as Shannon Morrison moves to safety and Paul Nichols concentrates on corners, junior Maurice Kitchens (17 tackles) has the nod at the wide side linebacker with Mahala Wiggins backing him and young linebackers Daniel Wells, a sophomore, backing up Johnson (72 tackles, one interception) and Howard King, a red-shirt frosh, backing up Hoskins (27 tackles in 10 games). Two juniors are trying to replace Keyes in Phillip Gamble (6 tackles on special teams) and Jon Moravec (five tackles). Backups include junior hard-hitting safety John Saunders and sophomore corners Chuck Roberts and Ashton Hall (16 tackles).

Zearrick Matthews returned this interception of Tulane 44 yards for a score last season. photos by Greg Perry/HI staff

On special teams, the Herd returns inconsistent kicker Anthony Binswanger (5-of-13 on field goals, long of 50 yards, and 36-for-40 on extra-points), who has a powerful leg but must become a scoring threat to hold onto his job. Marty Biagi, who averaged 38.4 yards per punt in 2005, will replace Ian O'Connor who handled all the punting in 2006, averaging 41.0 per punt and placing 21 of 37 kicks inside the 20-yard line. Long snapper Sean McClellan has the job for the spring. If Small is the lead back, Spann and Edmonson will get a look at kick returns along with Passmore while Spann is back at punt returns, averaging 12.0 yards per return last year which was good for second in the league.

West Virginia will open the Marshall home schedule with the first visit by the Mountaineers to Huntington to play the Thundering Herd since the famous "Tower Game" of 1915 and Albert McClellan (No. 96) and Josh Johnson (No. 32) would like more plays like this in the Friends of Coal Bowl Sept. 8.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff

The Herd has another challenging schedule, opening at Miami, Florida on Sept. 1. Top five-ranked West Virginia comes to Huntington for the first time since 1915, and only second time ever in football, on Sept. 8, an ESPN game that is being considered for an 11 a.m. start in the second annual Friends of Coal Bowl. Marshall will host I-AA quarterfinalist New Hampshire the following week. Marshall then has three consecutive road trips over four weeks: Sept. 22 at Big East member Cincinnati; on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at Memphis, another ESPN-family game, to open C-USA play; and then a first-ever game at Tulsa on Oct. 13. Marshall returns home for a first-ever Sunday game with Southern Miss, also on the nation's televised sports leader, on Oct. 21, then has a short week to ready for Rice's first-ever visit on Oct. 27. In November, the Herd will alternate home-and-away, beginning with a game at UCF's new stadium on Nov. 3, then return home to host East Carolina on Nov. 10. MU makes another first-ever trip for football to Houston on Nov. 17, then finishes the regular season with UAB over Thanksgiving weekend on Nov. 24. Miami, WVU, Cincy, Tulsa, Southern Miss, Rice, ECU and Houston all played in bowls last season.

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