Marshall football: O-line not satisfied with strong 2012
ASHLAND, Ky. - There's probably a joke somewhere in the idea of inviting a pair of burly Marshall University offensive linemen to a season ticket promotion held at a Chick-fil-A.
But after the prolific season Marshall's offense had in 2012, guys like rising redshirt juniors Chris Jasperse and Grady Kerr earned those waffle fries. The two signed posters and talked to diners at the Ashland restaurant Tuesday afternoon comfortable in the knowledge that their unit helped the Herd field one of the most explosive teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"We've made it a long way, but we've still got a long way to go," said Jasperse, who started nine games at center and three at guard last season." We've definitely improved in a lot of aspects of our game. We're just trying to build on what we've had in the past and just go from there."
Entering the 2012 slate, even the Herd coaches were mentioning that the offensive line had to step up to improve the overall offense. In 2011, the Herd finished 102nd in the FBS in total offense with just 333.38 yards per game and 99th in scoring with 21.85 yards per game.
With the Herd's offensive line opening the holes, the offense posted massive improvements in 2012. Marshall finished first in the FBS in passing (365.08 yards per game), sixth in total offense (534.25 ypg) and seventh in scoring (40.92 points per game). The team also improved its rushing average by 59 yards per game (120.08 in 2011 to 169.17 in 2012).
Jasperse and Kerr felt one of the key games in their group's ascension was Marshall's 54-51 double-overtime win over Rice. The Herd gained 593 total yards that game and featured a pair of 100-yard rushers - Steward Butler (166) and Kevin Grooms (103).
"We went into overtime there and we really had to come out on top in that one," said Kerr, a reserve who appeared in six games in 2012. "That really set the tone."
The offensive line is using the offseason to build on the momentum from last year. The group is at work five days a week, not only in the weight room, but in position drills as well, brushing up on the nuances that new offensive line Coach Alex Mirabal brought in during the spring.
"We're working on our footwork and our drills and everything," Kerr said, "so we can come right into camp and be ready to go."
And with John Bruhin's graduation being the only loss of a significant contributor to the line, Marshall's unit enters the 2013 season with most of its pieces back.
"This is the first time that we've had a solid 10 guys where, no matter what, we can put them in the game," Jasperse said. "It feels good that anybody we have can go in the game at any point in time. We feel fine with them going in and playing."
The Herd will have one ticket promotion in Kanawha County before its annual "Paint the Capital City Green" pep rally Aug. 22 at the Charleston Embassy Suites. Players will be at Recovery Sports Grille in Charleston on Friday, Aug. 2, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Practice begins for the Herd on Monday, Aug. 5.
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ADD HERD receiver Tommy Shuler to the list of Marshall football players on preseason watch lists. Shuler, a rising senior, was named to the 75-man Biletnikoff Award watch list, announced Tuesday. The award, named after NFL and College Football Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff, is given annually to college football's top receiver.
Shuler's 110 catches in 2012 set a school record and he became just the fifth Conference USA player, and the first underclassman, to record 100 catches or more in a single season. Those 110 grabs went for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns. Shuler joins quarterback Rakeem Cato (Maxwell), tight end Gator Hoskins (Mackey) and punter Tyler Williams (Ray Guy) on preseason watch lists. The Herd has a Biletnikoff winner in its history. Randy Moss won the award in 1997.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.