Marshall football: Herd embraces extra practice time
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall football Coach Doc Holliday got a bowl gift he thinks is even better than the PlayStation 4 his players will receive. It's one he considers more valuable to the Thundering Herd's future.
Holliday and the rest of the Herd coaching staff -- as they prepare for Marshall's Dec. 27 meeting with Maryland in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md. (2:30 p.m., ESPN) -- will spend plenty of time game-planning for the Terrapins. But they'll also carve out some time in the weeks before the game for the Herd's youngest players.
Regular season practices often aren't the friends of freshman players. Those sessions are spent focused on the first and second teams, while those lower on the depth chart work mostly on scout teams, running the opposition's schemes. But the two extra games on Marshall's schedule this year - the Conference USA title game and the Military Bowl - allow the Herd's youngsters the opportunity to get more instruction.
"If you count the week we had for the C-USA championship game and then about 11 or 12 practices before the bowl game, that's just as many practices as you get for spring ball," Holliday said. "We have about 16-to-17 practices before that bowl game which is huge. Especially for the young offensive and defensive linemen because those are the ones you can really develop the most."
Normally, offensive coordinator Bill Legg said, younger players get about half the individual periods that the first- and second-stringers get.
But in these postseason practices, once the first and second string teams get their at-bats in inside run drills or 7-on-7 drills, the younger players get to step in next.
And when the main practice session finished, the younger players stayed on the field a little bit longer, getting to run individual drills with their position coaches. Legg said those opportunities are more important for some positions more than others. Positions laden with more fundamental techniques benefit most.
"Like offensive line, probably the most technical position you can play on the field," he said. "And when you're thinking about the proper footwork and hat placement and hand placement along with who I'm supposed to block and when I'm supposed to block them, that can bog you down and you don't play at the speed you would if you had a complete understanding.
"So this will help as we move forward," he continued, "giving the young guys a better understanding and better chance to put themselves in a position when spring comes. Then we'll go through it all again, and it will be an additional time to work it."
Freshman quarterback Kevin Anderson is taking advantage of every extra second he gets. He understands that, normally, starter Rakeem Cato and backup Blake Frohnapfel need to take the majority of the snaps, while he and redshirt freshman Gunnar Holcombe spend most of their time running scout team offenses. But on Monday, he and Holcombe were on the field with the rest of the young players, taking quick snaps and firing passes to wide receivers.
"It's awesome," Anderson said. "It's definitely huge. Out here, this specialized stuff, it's just the coaches and me and Gunnar. We're just out here working on our stuff, one-on-one. It's so much different."
Anderson graduated from Boca Raton High a semester early in order to enroll at Marshall in time for spring football. But these sessions are different, he said. The spring season was spent taking baby steps in learning the offense. Now, with a season's worth of experience under his belt, when he works in the Herd's offensive scheme, he does so with much more confidence.
"Now I'm just a lot more comfortable," he said. "With the quarterback position, when you're comfortable, that's when you start to actually show what you can do. You catch a rhythm. That's what I've been waiting for."
Mission one for the Herd this month is to get ready for its upcoming bowl. But Holliday said there's no reason not to use some of that time to work toward making another bowl next season.
"We're going to take advantage of every minute we have to try to make this team better," Holliday said.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.