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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Hunter gets comfortable again in return to linebacker

By Derek Redd, Marshall beat writer
FILE PHOTO
Marshall’s D.J. Hunter (22) tries to make a play on a tipped pass during the Thundering Herd’s win against the University of Texas at San Antonio last season in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Things should run a little more smoothly for D.J. Hunter now that he’s on his second tour of duty as a Marshall strong-side linebacker.

That’s not to say things didn’t go well the first time around. Hunter was named a Sporting News freshman all-American the first time he played the position. It’s just that, that time, the move came at the last minute. Actually, it came after the Thundering Herd’s first game of the season.

Hunter played the first game of the 2012 season as a strong safety, moved to linebacker the next game and stayed there the rest of the season, recording 102 tackles, 3.5 for a loss and a pair of pass break-ups.

He slid back a bit in 2013 and his return to strong safety, recording 50 tackles and starting just seven of 14 games. A concussion suffered in the Herd’s loss at Middle Tennessee played a part in that.

In this go-round at linebacker, though, he’s actually had some months to prepare for the role.

“I think it makes a lot of difference, because you really know what to prepare for,” Hunter said. “You know what you need to do.”

What he did was spend the summer running linebacker drills with other members of his unit, like Jermaine Holmes, Neville Hewitt and Evan McKelvey. He credited that trio especially for helping him to return to his old job. This time, there was no learning on the fly.

“I knew where I was going to be, so I made sure to work on dropping and staying in my stance and reading the line of scrimmage,” Hunter said.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater agreed that the return to linebacker has paid off for the 6-foot, 217-pound redshirt junior. Those dimensions at that position allow Heater to take advantage of the traits Hunter showed at both linebacker and strong safety.

“He’s gotten closer to the line of scrimmage and I think that’s better for him,” Heater said. “The scheme we’re playing takes advantage of some of the things he can do as an athlete. We have a linebacker who can run the way he can run. That gives us some flexibility to do some things because of his ability to run.”

Hunter welcomes return to his old spot, which partly fueled the intensity of his offseason preparations. He never wants to say things for him on defense didn’t work out because he didn’t try.

“I know the coaches are going to put us all in the right position, no matter what it is,” Hunter said. “I made a promise to myself this offseason that I was going to work as hard as possible every day and learn everything I need to learn. So when I look back, I won’t have regrets. I can at least say I know I went as hard as I could.”

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HEATER HAS thrown some new terminology the way of his safeties. Instead of free and strong safety, Heater is employing field and boundary safties.

The terms “field” and “boundary” normally are used for corners. The field corner plays the wider side of the field, while the boundary corner plays the shorter side, depending on where the ball is placed. The roles of the boundary and field safties are different, Heater said.

“It’s a little new for us, in terms of the job requirements of each position,” he said. “All my safeties are learning both sides. One might involve a little more run support and the other might involve a little more coverage. This has to do more about probably run support and coverage, in terms of who you think is going to do more of one of the other.”

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THE HERD’S young wide receivers continued to impress head coach Doc Holliday this past week, especially freshman Angelo Jean-Louis, who turned in a few acrobatic catches. He hopes that will translate to the regular season, which begins at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30 at Miami (Ohio).

“It’s great, because we didn’t get a lot of those plays a year ago,” Holliday said. “Normally, what happens in practice happens in games, so if they can continue making big plays in game situations down the road, we’ll be all right, because they’re making them in practice.”

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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