Marshall football: Roberts is healthy, ready to work way into rotation
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Darryl Roberts isn't in the business of being a spectator, but the lingering effects of a broken ankle kept the Marshall cornerback on the sideline for the entire 2012 season.
He went to every home game and cheered his teammates from the sidelines, but during every game, he wished he could throw on a pair of shoulder pads and a helmet and join the Thundering Herd secondary.
He's getting that wish this spring. Healthy and ready to play, Roberts is working his way back into the Herd's corner rotation.
"It feels good just being back out here with my teammates," he said, "getting that bond back and having a good time flying around and making plays."
Roberts played all 13 of Marshall's 2011 games, starting nine, picked off one pass and was second on the team with seven pass breakups. His absence last season was one of several injuries that shortened Marshall's cornerback depth chart.
A.J. Leggett's shoulder injury kept him out for the season and a number of bumps and bruises affected the rest of the group.
That's why Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said it's been a major pick-me-up for the secondary in getting Roberts, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound redshirt junior, back on the field.
"He was an awful good football player for a couple of years and we missed him," Holliday said. "It's great to see him back there. Anytime you get a good football player, it's going to help. Competition is the greatest thing in the world in developing players, and having that kind of competition at the corner and safety positions is going to be great."
Roberts will have to spend some time learning the system from new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, but he said that, physically, it's like he never missed a second.
"I feel pretty good, actually," he said. "I had a good offseason, working and rehabbing really hard. I feel really good right now. I feel like I didn't lose a step, and I feel better than I did."
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THE DEFENSIVE LINE is getting a double dose of coaching this spring with the arrival of ends coach Sean Cronin. Cronin, a former Herd assistant who spent the last two seasons as Temple's defensive line coach, is splitting up the line duties with J.C. Price, who will guide the interior defensive linemen.
Rising senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said that in the early stages of spring practice, Cronin has stressed that his players operate with a high motor.
"What he emphasizes is effort," said Taylor, a team captain last season as a junior. "The stuff we need to know, that will come with repetition. The thing he's harping on is effort, to make sure you go hard all the time."
That doesn't mean Price has abandoned the ends, Taylor said. They'll still work with Price during practice to learn inside moves. Taylor feels that extra coaching will be a major benefit in the end. Marshall's 1.58 sacks per game tied it with five other Football Bowl Subdivision teams for 87th nationally. Its 6.08 tackles for loss per game tied it with three other teams for 48th nationally.
"Coming in from different perspectives, it's going to help a lot," said Taylor, who led the Herd in sacks with 5.5 and finished fourth with 8.5 tackles for loss. "You're getting it from both ways."
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BLAKE BROOKS wanted to contribute more to Marshall's success. A defensive lineman last season, he recorded one tackle in four games while also playing offensive line for the Herd's scout team. At the end of last season, he and the coaches decided a switch from defense to offense might work.
This spring, Brooks, a former South Charleston High School star who won the 2009 Hunt Award as West Virginia's top high school lineman, is at guard.
"I wanted to contribute for the team and just help the team out to win," he said. "I think the best decision for the coaches and for myself and for this team was for me to be on the offensive side of the ball."
While Brooks played on offense and defense in high school, he's been a defensive lineman since arriving at Marshall. This spring, his role changes from quarterback hunter to quarterback protector, and the transition takes a little getting used to.
"Offensively, you have to think a little bit more," Brooks said. "Defensively, you can just crank the engine and go. Offensively, you have to have your ears open and you have to listen a lot more.
"With the linebackers moving and the defensive line switching, I think that's pretty much the transition," he added. "You have to listen to the quarterback. When I played defense, I just looked at the play call and just went."
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.