At running back, Marshall must replace all 1,575 yards and 19 touchdowns that Ahmad Bradshaw took with him when he declared for the NFL draft. Chubb Small, an Auburndale Florida native, looks to get the first crack at replacing Bradshaw. At 5'9, 193 pounds, Small is a legit homerun threat that can rattle off a big gain at any moment. He never had more than 10 carries in any game last season, though, so the question will be whether or not he can handle the pounding as a starting running back over 4 quarters.
Morris' targets will be plentiful and talented, led by standout tight end Cody Slate, a 6'4 225 pound tight end who made his arrival known to the college football world by hauling in 43 catches for 684 yards, along with 6 touchdowns in his freshman campaign.
On the outside, Morris will look to 6'3 Juco transfer Darius Passmore to compliment last year's reception leader among Herd wideouts, Emanuel Spann. Courtney Edmondson seems to be the third wide receiver set for playing time. Edmonson, who played sparingly as a freshman, is a polished pass catcher that is very explosive. Overall, Morris will not be short on talent when it comes to targets. Marshall has a nice stock of talented pass catchers that can make plays.
Protecting Morris on the outside will be two brand new tackles. More importantly, Marshall will ask senior John Inman to anchor the lines most important position: left tackle. A career guard, Inman will make his debut at left tackle against All-Everything defensive end Calias Campbell. On the interior, junior guard Brian Leggett returns to a position where he started 12 games in 2006. Anchoring the line is the stud of the unit, Doug Legursky. The spot for left guard seems to be a battle between redshirt freshmen Josh Evans and Chad Schofield.
On defense, new coordinator Steve Dunlap looks to star Albert McClellan to help a unit that ranked 101st in the nation in total defense. The Lakeland Florida native busted out last year, recording 77 total tackles and 11 sacks in his sophomore season. The rest of the line features senior nose tackle Byron Tinker, who got to the quarterback 4.5 times last season, while recording eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Holding down the middle with Tinker will be Juco transfer Montel Glasco. Marshall hopes that the 6'3 280 pound tackle can help sure up a run defense that allowed 140 yards per game in 2006.
Roaming behind the line is a talented group of backers, led by one time Miami recruit and former Georgia Bulldog Josh Johnson. After being dismissed from UGA, Johnson recorded 72 tackles in 2006. The impressive physical specimen should provide Marshall with a big time hitter in the middle. On the outside of Johnson will be first time starters, juniors Ian Hoskins and Maurice Kitchens.
Patrolling the secondary will be three returning starters from a unit that ranked an abysmal 93rd in pass efficiency. Junior Phillip Gamble will be taking over at the strong safety spot for departed playmaker Curtis Keyes. A hard-hitter who has only seen action at special teams, Gamble has huge shoes to fill. At free safety, C.J. Spillman returns. Spillman, who recorded 79 tackles in 2006, is a sure tackler and excellent in run support.
The corner position is a concern, despite the two returning starters. Zearrick Matthews and Ashton Hall, sophomores, must improve in coverage in 2007. At just 5'9 162 pounds, Matthews is a potential match-up nightmare for Marshall when facing bigger wide receivers. Gamble must step up and replace Keyes if the Thundering Herd expects to see little to no drop off in pass defense. If not, a regression, while unbelievable, might be possible.
The special teams unit for Marshall is currently a mess. Starting punter Marty Biagi tore up his knee this spring, propelling true freshman Jake Fields into the starting role. At kicker, Marshall rests its hopes on the leg of senior Anthony Biswanger, who finished the 2006 season with a forgettable 4 missed extra points and a 5 of 13 mark for field goals.
Overall, Marshall seems to have promise at the skill positions, but the offensive line is rebuilding at the most important spots. The quarterback position appears to be high risk, high reward with the career inconstant Bernard Morris set to take the reins. On defense, standouts Josh Johnson and Albert McClellan anchor a unit which was flat out miserable in 2006. Horrible against the run, and even worse against the pass, the Marshall defense could be the sole reason for yet another losing season in Huntington, West Virginia.
James Barber is a contributing writer to CanesTime.com and will preview each upcoming opponent each week.