HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It's not that the tackle football concept is new to Marshall defenders.
Outside of the takeaways department, Coach Mark Snyder's 2009 Herd ranked in the top four in Conference USA in the major team defensive statistical categories, including total defense, rushing defense and passing defense.
But a frequent phrase uttered in post-game interviews and conversations last season - after games in which the Herd 'D' stumbled, obviously - often resembled this: "We came out flat."
Dejected players would cite their lack of emotion or intensity, at least at the outset of a game, for their unit's misgivings. That's a tough concept for some student-athletes to swallow.
"We have to be ready," Marshall tight end Lee Smith said. "There's no excuse for not being ready or motivated to play football. We don't get many chances to go out there and play."
Smith's an offensive guy, but at 6-foot-6 and 260 or so pounds, he's not bashful when it comes to physicality. An extra emphasis on that kind of attitude seems to have a little swagger permeating through the defense after seven of the team's 15 spring football practices.
Big hits are frequent. All linebackers, defensive backs and linemen can be heard yelling and screaming throughout practice as they rally around their teammates, especially on the occasion when they out-muscle the offense.
First-year Coach Doc Holliday's popular "circle drill" encourages one-on-one hitting - and often its fair share of skirmishes. More than once this spring the white jerseys (offense) have wrestled with the green jerseys (defense), occasionally with a dozen or so players involved in a melee.
"That's how they are supposed to be," Holliday said. "They leave it on the field. It's all in fun. We want them to show they have a little fight in them."
Although emotions sometimes spill out in those drills, players relished their first scrimmage Saturday. The Marshall offense competed against the defense for 22 periods, with situations ranging from the offense starting at its own 35 to its own 1.
"It felt good to go out there and let loose," linebacker Kellen Harris said. "Just really compete."