Herd Offense Has Questions For Spring

Now that basketball is on the back burner for Marshall Thundering Herd fans, and with baseball and softball just getting going, many fans are anticipating the start of spring practice for the MU football team. Head Coach Mark Snyder's fourth year has new faces, opponents in new places and five of the six home games will be against bowl teams. Let's look at some of the questions to be answered.

Marshall will start spring practice on April 1, then end with the annual Green-White Spring Football Game on April 26. Between then and now, here are some of the things to watch for during practice.

1) How will players react and interact with new coordinators?
Marshall is on its third defensive coordinator in three seasons with Rick Minter signing on this winter after Steve Dunlap got the chance to return to his alma mater, West Virginia, and work as an assistant for new WVU head coach Bill Stewart. MU will visit the Mountaineers on Sept. 27, and Minter will have four games before the annual Friends of Coal Bowl. With Jim Collins running the show in 2005-06 and Dunlap in 2007, you have to think that Snyder's imprint on the defense will still be large for the former Ohio State defensive coordinator. But Minter, a former head coach at Herd opponent Cincinnati (a Friday, Oct. 3, ESPN game in Huntington this year), will no doubt add and subtract as needed. More on Minter next week.

On the offensive side, new OC/QB coach John Shannon not only has to put parts of the offense he ran as a coach for the Toledo Rockets, but will have five quarterbacks with little game experience for Marshall. Red-shirt freshmen Mark Cann and Chris Smith, sophomore Brian Anderson and juniors Wesley Beardain and Johnathan Garner enter a wide-open race for the starting quarterback job. Garner, a transfer who sat out 2007 after coming to MU from Georgia Tech, will have to shake the rust of a year off while Smith has to get up to speed on the MU offense, running the scout team (and opponents plays) most of last year. Throw out those Larry Kueck notebook guys, here comes the system that allowed Bruce Gradkowski to hit 70 percent of his passes for UT in the Mid-American Conference.

2) Who will block for the eventual starter at QB?

While the quarterbacks have to absorb a new system, the offensive line will absorb a number of talented newcomers and a new coaching philosophy. Mike Cummings will now coach the guards and centers, along with acting as recruiting coordinator, while Phil Ratliff adds tackles to his coaching of the tight ends. This seems to be a great move, as Ratliff was an All-American lineman for the Herd and splitting up the offensive line means Cummings will coach three players and Ratliff will coach three players, instead of five and one. This should allow for more individual instruction, and with so many new faces MU's offensive line may need that.

Returning Sr. guard Brian Leggett will probably move to center, backed by senior Matt Altobello and red-shirt freshman John Bruhin, while soph Josh Evans looks solid at left guard. After that...? Sophomore Brandon Campbell played some and may have the inside track at left tackle, or right tackle if lefties Cann or Gardner are the starters at QB. Daniel Baldridge started at right tackle, but all of the above will be pressed by red-shirts frosh Branden Curry, C.J. Woods, Sergio Glenn, Ryan Tillman, true first-year player Micah Carter and sophomores Erik Vint and Chad Schoefield, plus 330-pound junior college tackle Jimmy Rodgers has to fit in somewhere along that front.

3)Spreading the wealth at receiver and running back challenges coaches in spring and fall.

Marshall will have the, on-paper, best collection of backs in recent memory this fall if everyone signed makes his grades. Returners Darius Marshall, Kelvin Turner, Chubb Small, and fullback Matt Parkhurst, are where you start, although the rumor about Small to defensive safety will not be put to rest until April 1. Behind them is Terrell Edwards, who nearly got his red-shirt burned a couple of times last year, Robert Henry and Cody Tominack, a fullback as well.

Coming in is a sensational group. Martin Ward is eligible, and if JoJo Cox (sitting out as a prop), Demetrius Thompson and Jamal Wilson all get eligible, running backs coach Jared Smith (also running special teams this year) will have a treasure chest of talent to choose from.

The same can be said of receivers coach Todd Goebbles, who is also the passing game coordinator this season. He has seniors Emmanuel Spann, E.J. Wynn and Darius Passmore returning along with junior Tavaris Thompson and sophomores Courtney Edmonson and Bryant Milligan. This summer adds O.J. Murdock, a former South Carolina signee before heading to Pearl River C.C., and Chuck Walker from the juco ranks. Both are 4.3-4.4 guys, so speed is the name of the game among wideouts. Don't forget about tight ends, with junior Cody Slate (6-foot-4, 220), junior Lee Smith (6-foot-6, 250-pounds), sophomore Hunter Hamrick (6-foot-4, 230) and juco Marcus Graham. Graham was the top-rated TE in junior colleges in the December signing period, and is 6-foot-5, 275-pounds. He and Smith may allow Slate to split out more for the MU QBs to take advantage of his speed, especially when isolated on a linebacker.

Coming up next Monday, defensive concern.

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