Marshall football: Herd defenders prepare for new rule
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - As soon as the words, "targeting rule" were uttered, Marshall defensive end Jeremiah Taylor laughed. It wasn't from joy.
That laugh came from knowing what the question would be - how will defenses conform to the new targeting rules that could leave their top players ejected - and from knowing that the answer won't be easy.
"I can see where both sides are coming from," Taylor said. "It'll make it a little bit tougher on us, but we'll manage it."
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel passed the rule this spring, allowing officials to eject players who target and hit defenseless players above the shoulders. If the lead official feels a player targeted a defenseless opponent above the shoulders, he can toss him from the game. That ruling only can be overturned by a replay official.
Taylor understands why the rule is in place, to help eliminate the helmet-to-helmet and shoulder-to-helmet hits that lead to concussions and possible long-term effects. But that also could lead to a team's hardest hitters being thrown out of a game.
"It's a little difficult," Taylor said. "We have some thumpers on our team and we can't have those guys getting thrown out. I think it'll be in the back of their mind. I hope it won't slow their play down, but I feel we'll be all right."
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said allowing a replay official to possibly overturn the call is a necessary move. Human error could lead to a top player being banished to the locker room for a legal hit. But Marshall's coaches won't leave anything to chance. They'll make sure players know how to tackle in order to keep those ejections from happening.
"That's a critical rule that could change a game," Holliday said. "You could have your best player ejected pretty easily. That's something we're going to talk about. We've coached our guys about it. I'm not sure you coach any differently, other than you make sure your target area is from the shoulders down."
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MARSHALL SHOWCASED its running-back depth once again during the Thundering Herd's afternoon practice. Sophomore Kevin Grooms pulled up limping after a drill and finished the session with a walking boot on his left foot. But that allowed Essray Taliaferro to score on a few nimble runs in his place.
Taliaferro showed that talent in last season's finale, rushing for 130 yards and a touchdown in the Herd's loss to East Carolina.
"It's good that you have four of them that can all play," Holliday said. "Sooner or later, you look at last year, the time we got to East Carolina, Taliaferro was the only one that was healthy. It's great that we have all four of them and all four will be used throughout the year."
Holliday said Grooms would be fine, as would corner Keith Baxter, who spent the afternoon with a walking boot on his right foot.
The running backs aren't the only unit showing depth this preseason. Holliday has been pleased with the abilities of his linebacker corps as well. He said that in the offseason the coaches identified linebacker as one of the spots where the Herd needed to get stronger. Adding Kent Turene, Neville Hewitt and Stefan Houston, among others, has helped do that.
"Where that helps you too, now that we have six or eight of them we think can play, it makes your special teams so much better, because those guys are now cover guys," Holliday said. "Those guys can all run down on kickoffs and block punts and do all those different things."
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THE HERD will have one practice session this afternoon, the first in which the players can wear full pads.
"I'm not sure it's going to be any different than the last two days," Holliday said. "To me, it's no different. We won't tackle to the ground, but most of the stuff we do will work anyway, because it makes you better tacklers."
Marshall will hold its first scrimmage Saturday at 10:45 a.m. Gates will open at 10:15 a.m. and the scrimmage will be open to season ticket holders and Big Green members. Marshall will have its fan day Sunday from 4-6 p.m. on Joan C. Edwards Stadium field. Fans are asked to remain in the chairback sections on the stadium's west side until the team takes the team photo in the east stands. At that time, fans can enter the field and take a team photo in a designated area. After the team photo, players will be available on the field for autographs. Admission is free.
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.