Marshall football: Holliday has options on defense
HUNTINGTON - The most popular word on the initial Marshall football depth chart is its shortest - or. Those two letters link together two, three, even four names at various positions, making the order of first-, second- and third-string lineups much more fluid.
But the abundance of "or" doesn't mean that Coach Doc Holliday couldn't find a starter in those roles. On the contrary, that means he has more than one player he feels can crack the first string as the Thundering Herd prepares for its season opener at 7 p.m. Saturday against Miami University on the CBS Sports Network.
"Whenever you see an 'or' there, they're projected starters," Holliday said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "Those guys that are 'ors' are considered starters and they'll play as much as the other guys."
The defensive lineup has a lot of wiggle room. Only four of the 11 positions don't have the word "or" between the first and second names. Middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes, strong safety D.J. Hunter, free safety Taj Letman, and nickelback Corey Tindal are the only concrete starters.
Otherwise, the defensive lineup is flexible: Jeremiah Taylor or Ra'Shawde Myers at one end, Alex Bazzie or Myers at the other. Brandon Sparrow or Jarquez Samuel at nose tackle, Steve Dillon or James Rouse at defensive tackle, Evan McKelvey or Neville Hewitt at weakside linebacker, Monterius Lovett or Derrick Thomas at one corner and Darryl Roberts or Thomas at the other corner.
The offensive lineup is more solid. Only three of the 11 starting spots have two names: Davonte Allen or Devon Smith at the "X" receiver, Sebastian Johansson or Josh Lovell at left guard and Essray Taliaferro or Kevin Grooms at running back. The rest of the starting lineup is Craig Wilkins at the "Z" receiver, Tommy Shuler in the slot, Gage Niemeyer at left tackle, Chris Jasperse at center, Alex Schooler at right guard, Garrett Scott at right tackle, Gator Hoskins at tight end and Rakeem Cato at quarterback.
Holliday considers the lineup's configuration a testament to the Herd's depth, something it hasn't had as much of in years past.
"At Florida, we had a lot of 'ors,' but not (at Marshall) since I've been here," the former West Virginia, Florida and North Carolina State assistant said. "It gives us an opportunity to play a lot more people, which is good."
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MYERS' CLIMB up the depth chart has been quick. He started one game last year - at defensive tackle versus West Virginia - and recorded just 16 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, in 11 games. This season, he's grown as a player to a point where Holliday considers him the equal of two players in Bazzie and Taylor who started every game at end last season.
"He's holding his weight, he's had an excellent camp and he's as good as those other guys right now," Holliday said. "He deserves to play. He can be the rush and the drop end, so he's able to play both."
Myers feels he's become a much better player and said he's gained about 20 pounds from last season, which has helped him become a better run stopper.
"It makes a big difference," he said. "I'm stronger. I can hold my own now. I'm not getting bullied anymore."
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GROOMS' INCLUSION at the top of the running back depth chart shows Holliday's faith that the 2012 Conference USA Freshman of the Year will be fully healed from his sprained ankle in time for Saturday's game. Last season, Grooms led Marshall with 737 yards and eight touchdowns on 121 carries.
"He practiced for the most part last week and practiced full again (Monday) and he should be fine by Saturday," Holliday said. "He's worked his tail off and spent a lot of time in the training room."
Holliday wasn't as certain with offensive lineman Cameron Dees, who started three games in 2012 at center and guard and continues to recover from a concussion. He expected the sophomore lineman to be back at practice Monday, but freshman Michael Selby was listed as the backup center.
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IF HOLLIDAY can help it, fans should expect to see Devon Smith at several positions this year. Listed as a co-starter at the "X," Holliday said he could move inside, too, and see some time at punt returner.
"The biggest thing we have to do is make sure we get the guys who can make plays the touches they need to get," Holliday said. "What (offensive coordinator Bill Legg) has to do and will do is find a way to get the ball in his hands. He's a talented guy with the ball in his hands."
Speaking of special teams, Holliday said that freshman Amoreto Curraj likely will handle the Herd's kickoffs. He's an option if Marshall needs a long field goal, but Holliday is confident in Justin Haig as well.
"It depends on the situation," Holliday said of Curraj's field-goal duties. "It depends on where we are in the game and how we're playing. We're not that far with that with him. Justin is a guy I know is mentally tough."
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.