HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There was a point very early in the Marshall football team's 2012 season that it saw the offensive line rotation could become an issue.
Against Ohio, sixth-year guard John Bruhin toughed through a bruised sternum to enter the game in the fourth quarter, marking the first time a Thundering Herd starting offensive lineman had been spelled the entire game. A combination of injuries and a shallow depth chart contributed to that six-man rotation.
This preseason, the Herd is learning quickly that won't be a problem anymore.
The offensive line is deeper this year than Coach Doc Holliday has seen it, a stroke of good fortune considering the type of offense the Herd runs.
With the growing trend of high-tempo offenses, the Herd is the trendsetter. Marshall averaged a whopping 90.6 plays per game last season. That doesn't just lead to fatigued opposing defenses. The offensive players can get tired, too, especially the ones carrying nearly 300 pounds on their frames.
"It's our job to do that," senior left tackle Gage Niemeyer said. "Just like a computer job, you train to enter words into a computer, you get good at entering words into a computer. We train to run plays like that. You're going to get tired, but you get into game shape. And you have to keep pushing and keep trying, because it's hard to get 300 pounds moving over and over for 13-play drives. You get tired really quick."
No starter wants to come out of the game, redshirt junior center Chris Jasperse said, but it comforts the starters to know they won't worry if they do.
"I like to play," Jasperse said. "I don't want to come out. But if I can go 75 plays as hard as I can go, give it all I got and have the backup come in and run 15 to 25 as hard as he can go, he works out here as hard as I do. You keep a rotation and keep fresh guys in the game."
Jasperse and Niemeyer join left guard Sebastian Johansson, right guard Alex Schooler and right tackle Garrett Scott among the five linemen who have started almost the entire preseason. When asked who else might compete for playing time, offensive line coach Alex Mirabal offered another five names: Jordan Jeffries, Josh Lovell, Clint Van Horn, Grady Kerr and Josh Selby.
Mirabal said he hasn't ever been a coach who has rotated 10 offensive linemen, but he could if he needed to, and that's a great scenario to have.
"That's a tribute to Coach Holliday and the staff that was here before I got here, that they developed that depth," Mirabal said. "I'm the beneficiary of it."
Holliday said the depth is impressive for a unit that has earned his respect a little more each year he has been Marshall's head coach. With the offense's frenetic pace, fresh, healthy players are essential at every position. Holliday has said he wanted 10 to 12 wide receivers that can enter the game. He'd like to see the same out of his offensive line.
"I think we're pretty close to being there up front," he said. "Alex has done a great job with those guys. You see (Blake Brooks) and Grady Kerr and Michael Selby as a freshman going in there, you don't see much of a drop off."