Marshall football: Herd offense putting defense to work
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- If there's one thing new Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater will be able to say at the end of spring practice, it's that his defense got a month-long workout against one of the top offenses in the country.
Every other opponent gears up for that one game each year where it must face reigning Conference USA MVP quarterback Rakeem Cato, league freshman of the year running back Kevin Grooms, record-breaking receiver Tommy Shuler and the rest.
Heater's charges are lining up against them every day, and he said that only will make those defenders better.
"They were the best offense in the league and they got everybody back," Heater said. "You're going to assume they'll be at least that again, at least be in the mix. That's good."
Marshall's 2012 offense ranked first in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 365.08 passing yards per game, sixth with 534.25 total yards per game and seventh with 40.92 points per game.
And the Herd's offense has gotten the best of the defense on a number of occasions this spring. Cato has found a number of receivers. Shuler has been able to turn short passes into long gains by weaving through the defense. Grooms and Steward Butler have run away from defenders as well.
The defense has gotten its licks in, too, especially during Thursday's practice.
The pass rush has been able to get to the quarterback at times, and the secondary has picked off a few passes, grabbing some deflected balls out of the air. Taj Letman swiped another pass Thursday during red zone seven-on-seven drills.
The defense really got after the offense Thursday during their scrimmage over the final few periods. Pass rushers flustered the quarterbacks, the running backs were getting stopped closer to the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Jermaine Holmes broke up an attempted Blake Frohnapfel to Eric Frohnapfel connection in the end zone.
Each big defensive play was met with a raucous celebration on the defensive sideline. Defensive line coach J.C. Price said that was the energy the coaches were looking for.
"We just had no fire and energy about us (Tuesday), we just made sure we talked to them and said it's OK to have fun," Price said. "And they did that."
Heater said that, for a new defensive coordinator, getting to face a top offense like the Herd's during practice gives him a good idea of how much the defense is improving.
"When you come in, you don't know what the barometer is," Heater said. "You don't know the league. You might think you're good, then you go out there and realize the league is a lot better. So what you know is you're probably going against skill level that is as good and, on paper, seemingly better than anyone else in the league.
"If that's true, that's good work for us. The game maybe can slow down when we get into real-live situations. You hope it does."
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CATO CAME out to practice Thursday afternoon and found a curious addition to his helmet - a miniature camera.
The camera didn't stay atop his helmet the entire practice, but it was there for enough drills to offer a different perspective for his coaches. Coach Doc Holliday said they decided to give it a try so the coaches can get an idea of the flow of the game through Cato's eyes.
"We're trying to see what he sees at times," Holliday said. "We're trying to experiment a little bit. It's just a camera where we can see, in different drills, what he sees and why he makes certain decisions. We'll take a look at it and see if it gives us an edge.
Cato said wearing the camera was a little awkward Thursday, but it doesn't weigh down the helmet or make it any bulkier. It'll be interesting, though, for the coaches to watch practice through Cato-vision.
"I see a lot of stuff on the field," the quarterback said.
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LINEBACKER Kent Turene underwent surgery on his injured ankle, Holliday said. Turene injured the ankle last week during practice.
"He didn't break his ankle, but he had to get a little thing fixed there," Holliday said. "We wanted to make sure it was fixed so he was good to go in June and July. He'll be fine."
Turene sat out last season as an academic non-qualifier and practiced for the first time in a Marshall uniform this spring.