Marshall football: Herd opens spring practice
HUNTINGTON -- It was "spring" practice in name only as the Marshall football team took the field at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
The first of 15 practices between Tuesday and the Green and White intrasquad scrimmage on April 27 included frigid temperatures, blustery winds and all sorts of precipitation.
"It's amazing," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "I think it was the first spring practice we had a little bit of everything - snow, sleet, hail and some rain."
Yet it didn't seem to sap the energy from the Thundering Herd, which has come together under a number of new assistant coaches this spring to begin its rebound from a disappointing 5-7 season.
"I thought they ran around and gave great effort and they were coached hard," said Holliday, who is entering his fourth season as Marshall's coach. "I thought that was a good thing."
Effort is the focus of the early days of spring, at least on the defensive side. Marshall's defense had a near total staff turnover and will try to climb out of the cellar of the Football Bowl Subdivision's rankings. The Herd ranked 101st in total defense, allowing 456.58 yards per game, and 119th in scoring defense, allowing 43.08 points per game.
Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor, who served as a team captain last season as a junior, said the defensive schemes of this year aren't drastically different from those of last year, though there are different tweaks and terminology. The key, he said, was building a foundation with the unit to where it can master the nuances of the new defense later on.
"Right now, the mission is getting everyone on the same page," Taylor said. "Right now, we're pretty much looking for effort, guys running to the ball. Getting the plays down, that'll come later. Dealing with today, we're happy with where we're at right now."
Offensively, the Herd is looking for ways to improve, even though the unit finished among the best in the country - first in passing (365.08 yards per game), sixth overall (534.25 ypg) and seventh in scoring (40.92 points per game). Holliday said there are still areas to work on, that the offense needs be able to change tempo and become a better running team.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato, last season's Conference USA most valuable player who led the FBS with 350.08 passing yards per game, said that last season was good, but an offense resting on its laurels wouldn't be tolerated this spring.
"We just have to keep going hard," Cato said. "Bring your 'A' game every day. You can't get big-headed off of just one season. It's a new year and we have to keep going on."
Cato added that's a little easier to do when the cold air chills the players through their uniforms. Some brave souls worked the practice in shorts while some wore sweats, but everyone stayed active.
A sedentary mindset was a bad idea in the sleet.
"You just can't sit around in that weather," Cato said. "So everyone wanted to get jumping and running."* * *
SEVERAL NEW names were found on the spring roster. Among them were linebacker Stefan Houston, receiver Shawney Kersey, quarterback Kevin Anderson, defensive back Corey Tindal, safety Taj Letman, linebacker Kent Turene and offensive lineman Tyler Combs. Receivers Angelo Jean-Louis and Deontay McManus, both of whom enrolled in the spring semester, weren't on the roster.
Ryan Riedel, a Cabell Midland High School product who redshirted last season, moved from linebacker to tight end, while former South Charleston High standout Blake Brooks moved from defensive line to offensive line.
Several players would be limited during the spring, but still participate in some aspects. Among them are defensive backs Keith Baxter, Andre Scott and A.J. Leggett, linebackers Evan McKelvey and Raheem Waiters (though Holliday said Waiters might be good to go by the weekend) and defensive lineman James Rouse. Offensively, linemen Cameron Dees and Jordan Jeffries, tight end Gator Hoskins and fullback Devon Johnson are limited, while Penn State transfer receiver Devon Smith still isn't at full speed following foot surgery, but should be at full speed soon.
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HOLLIDAY MAPPED out the responsibilities of his assistant coaches Tuesday, introducing Sean Cronin, a former Herd assistant and former defensive line coach at Temple, as Marshall's new defensive ends coach. J.C. Price will coach the interior defensive line. Adam Fuller will coach linebackers and defensive coordinator Chuck Heater will work with the secondary.
Offensive coordinator Bill Legg will work with the quarterbacks, while Todd Hartley moves from safeties coach to tight ends coach and will be Marshall's recruiting coordinator. Mike Furrey will coach receivers, Alex Mirabal will coach the offensive line and Thomas Brown will coach the running backs.
Hartley will guide the punt team and kickoff return team, while Fuller will coach the kickoff team and the punt block/return team.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.