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Marshall football: Herd putting more emphasis on offensive line

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- John Bruhin has heard the talk, that some consider Marshall's offensive line the weak link in the Thundering Herd's offense.

And, frankly, it ticks him off.

"Pretty bad, pretty bad," he said of just how ticked off it makes him. "We just have to work through it. You just have to come out and get better every day."

That has been the offensive line's aim since last season and that's been the task handed to the unit by Marshall's coaching staff.

"That's an area where we've put an emphasis on that we've got to get better," third-year MU Coach Doc Holliday said. "They've been told that. They understand that, and I think they're working extremely hard to make sure that happens."

Last season, the Herd tied with three teams for 68th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in sacks allowed (2.08 per game) and ranked 81st in tackles for loss allowed (6.23 per game). That contributed to Marshall finishing 2011 ranked 72nd in passing offense (213.31 yards per game), 96th in rushing offense (120.08 yards per game) and 102nd in total offense (333.38 yards per game).

Finishing in the bottom half or bottom fourth of FBS in those categories sits well with no one on the team, and the coaches quickly tried to fortify the offensive line.

The 2012 signing class included seven offensive linemen - freshmen to add depth and build for the future, and junior college players Billy Rone and Gage Niemeyer who could contribute immediately. Strength and conditioning coach Joe Miday has been hard at work building up the linemen's strength and durability.

Offensive coordinator Bill Legg, who also coaches tackles and tight ends, said the difference from last year to now is visible.

"Their strength levels are higher and their conditioning levels are better, and all those things generate more confidence," he said.

The added experience also helps. Of the 19 offensive linemen on the roster, 13 are redshirt sophomores or younger. Marshall's practice format, splitting the team into morning and afternoon groups, has allowed all of the linemen to get more reps. And more opportunities create more confidence, Legg said.

"The first day you rode a bicycle, you probably did it, but you were weaving and bobbling and wobbly and, every once in a while, you had to put your foot on the ground to catch yourself," Legg said. "After you've ridden that bike for a while, you start becoming very proficient. The awareness and confidence all play a factor.

"I think where we're different up front is now we have experience at every position we can take advantage of," he added. "They've been in the program more than four weeks so they're more proficient in the fundamentals and techniques they have to use."

Holliday said new assistant coach Geep Wade has been great in working with the Herd's guards and centers, and that the linemen have improved across the roster, not just with individual players. Niemeyer, who arrived in Huntington in January and practiced with the Herd in the spring, said the line's cohesiveness has improved in just a few months.

"It's really important everyone does their job," he said. "They need to be near perfect everyday or else it's not going to work. You need to have 10 guys who know what they're doing and they can count on and get the job done."

The mission, Legg said, was to return Marshall's offense to the days of Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, when the Herd didn't need to worry about scoring points. Bruhin said it was time for the offensive line to change people's perceptions, so when they talk about the linemen, it is praise and not criticism.

"We're going to come out swinging," Bruhin said. "It's going to be a good year."

 Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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