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Marshall football notebook: Herd D plays 'extremely hard and extremely physical'

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall football team's defense seemed quite ready to don shoulder pads Wednesday for the first time in the 2013 season. The unit, much maligned in 2012, played like they weren't going to get pushed around anymore.

"All that (defensive coaching) staff has done a tremendous job with them," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "And there's a lot more athletes out there than there's been in the past. One thing about it, when they put those pads on, they look a whole lot different, which is good."

In 7-on-7 drills, Thundering Herd quarterbacks were having trouble finding open receivers. That remained the case when the team went 11 on 11 on Wednesday afternoon. The defensive front brought pressure, with some of the assistant coaches bouncing with joy after big plays, and the quarterbacks scrambling from the pocket. Senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor earned some cheers from his defensive teammates when he stopped running back Steward Butler behind the line of scrimmage.

The offense had their moments, too. One highlight came when fullback Devon Johnson grabbed a short pass, turned up field and rumbled for a long gain, barreling into corner Corey Tindal in the process. But the Marshall defense kept up the intensity. That, Holliday said, was what he was looking for when he hired Defensi ve Coordinator Chuck Heater.

"They're competing every down and that's what Chuck brings," Holliday said. "He expects them to win every down and that's what their goal is. They go out there and try to play extremely hard and extremely physical."

*  *  *

The Herd spent its third day in split sessions, with one more of those today before the two halves become whole for a single practice Friday afternoon.

The coaches continued to split the roster into mostly younger, more inexperienced players in the morning and starters and significant contributors in the afternoon. Offensive Coordinator Bill Legg said the benefits are plentiful to giving the younger players the morning to themselves.

Back in the day, Legg said, freshmen would come in for practice two to three days before the rest of the team. So they could learn schemes at a slower pace and be more comfortable with them when the whole team practiced.

"If we practiced as an entire football team right now, would we focus on?" Legg asked. "We'd focus on that two-, two-and-a-half, or max three-deep, which means all those guys that were here all summer, you'd go with those guys first because they've got the experience.

"By giving these guys as an opportunity to take as many snaps and take as many reps as what the older guys are going to get in the afternoon, now we have a real shot of getting a legitimate evaluation of whether they can be ready to help us come this fall," he added.

* * *

The wind was blowing at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, which helped the Herd's kickers as they practiced kickoffs, but the four straight kicks that sailed into the end zone were something Holliday has wanted to see.

"Don't tell anybody," Holliday joked. "Don't jinx me, now. We've got to find a way where there's no returns. Those two freshman walk-on kids, that's what they're here for, and both of them can do it."

Those walk-ons are Amareto Curraj from Tampa, Fla., and Nicholas Smith from Plain City, Ohio, brought in to improve Marshall's touchback frequency. Of the 83 kickoffs between Justin Haig and Trent Martin last year, only six were touchbacks.

* * *

Holliday said record-setting wide receiver Tommy Shuler should be back at full speed pretty soon, as should fellow receiver Davonte Allen. Both have been banged up, and Holliday said he didn't want to rush them back into action. Allen, he said, could be ready by today to practice at full speed.

@tagline:Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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