Marshall football: Ability to shuffle improves offensive line
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall's offensive linemen are learning that the initials beside their names - be it RG, LT, C or otherwise - aren't chiseled there on stone tablets. It's more like they're scribbled on dry-erase boards.
Cameron Dees entered Saturday's game against Western Carolina to spell John Bruhin at right guard. The last time Dees had played guard was as a sophomore at Armwood High in Seffner, Fla. The true freshman normally is slotted behind Chris Jasperse on the center depth chart.
"I didn't really recall it (from high school), but I practiced at right guard all this (past) week," Dees said. "I did pretty well. I graded out pretty decently, but there's always improvements to be made, so we'll see."
He wasn't the only lineman shifting around the lineup. Gage Niemeyer, who had never played right tackle, moved there from left tackle against West Virginia when Garrett Scott went down with a leg injury and started there against WCU. And when Josh Lovell, Marshall's normal starting left guard, was held from Saturday's game with a leg injury, right guard Alex Schooler moved into his spot.
These aren't moves made out of last resort, but by design. The linemen say their ability to shuffle has improved the offensive line's depth and effectiveness. That's been shown on the stat sheets and the NCAA rankings and Marshall hopes it remains the case when the team hosts Ohio at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Bruhin said it was about time the offensive line followed the lead of the other positions on Marshall's football team.
If skill players and defenders can rotate in and out of games, he thought, then why can't the offensive line?
"The past couple of years I've been here, that's how it's worked," he said. "Almost every position on the field rotates except the offensive linemen. That helps the offense move faster, too. You have d-linemen rolling in, you have wide receivers rolling in, you have running backs rolling in, but no offensive linemen. Now we've got that depth and have people who can play and have the experience."
It's not just an experience boost that these moves provide, Bruhin said. It's a conditioning boost as well. The Thundering Herd have averaged 97.5 plays in their first two games, nearly 32 plays more per game than it averaged in 2012.
A lightning-fast pace can make for some fatigued offensive linemen, so the more players who know how to play more positions, the better.
Learning multiple positions is made easier in the position room, the linemen say. Rather than break into separate groups of guards, tackles and centers, the unit remains together so every player can listen in on the others' assignments, no matter the position or whether they line up on the left or right side. Dees said offensive line Coach Geep Wade has been a great teacher.
"Coach Wade does a great job of explaining things in the meeting room," Dees said. "You just need to be attentive to everything that's said. It's not just me being a center or a right guard. When he talks to the left tackle, I can still get value out of that. You still need to pay attention and I think our guys do a great job of that in meetings. That's why everyone transitions pretty well."
The line has remained solid even with the movement. Marshall's offense is sixth in total yardage (587.5 per game) - and No. 1 in passing yards (429 per game) - in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Herd is tied with Georgia for 15th in points per game (43.0) and the line has allowed just two sacks in two games.
That leads to stellar marks from quarterback Rakeem Cato.
"Right now, in my eyes, they're an A-plus o-line," he said. "I haven't seen anything they're doing wrong."
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MARSHALL CONFIRMED that punter Austin Dumas has left the team. Dumas, a redshirt freshman, had been competing with true freshman Tyler Williams for the starting punting job throughout the preseason.
Williams won the battle and has averaged 48.4 yards per punt, which would rank sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision if he had enough punts to qualify.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.