March 7, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – In less than three weeks, Marshall Football will take to Edwards Stadium to begin 15 spring practices spread over 33 days.
It’s the “unofficial start” to Coach Doc Holliday’s fourth season as the Thundering Herd coach, and despite a virtual revolving door on his staff offices with going and comings this season, Holliday said the players will be able to tell the coaches without a scorecard.
“We’ve had a lot of change, but one positive is we’ve had the ability … with our skill development and our mat drills and in everything we’ve done this winter, our coaches have had the opportunity to get around these guys,” Holliday said in his office at the Shewey Building. “That’s fortunate for us and for these players. It’s good, so there should be a lot of carryover going into spring ball.
“There’s no doubt that I’m excited about the staff. They’re great teachers, and I’m anxious about watching them go to work. But I don’t think that will be a big adjustment once we get out there, because of the opportunity to coach them in the offseason at this point.”
Spring practice opens Tuesday, March 26. The Herd will work through the April 27 Green-White Game. Holliday said the team will practice Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays except for Week 1, when the Saturday drills are moved from Easter eve to Good Friday.
When drills open, Holliday will have three new defensive coaches – led by coordinator Chuck Heater – and two offensive coaches on the field. Another assistant, Anthony Midget, stayed 10 days this winter before landing a Penn State job. There also is a new strength coach, Scott Sinclair.
“Well, we must be hiring good people, because other people keep hiring them,” said Holliday, who has endured more than 15 staff changes since his hiring in December 2009. “I teased somebody the other day that the unemployment people ought to start sending people through my office, because then everyone would have a job.
“Walk in that door and walk out the other one and get a really good job. It’s amazing. I don’t know of any program in America that’s had this.”
Holliday said there will be “a handful” of players who will have limited participation in spring workouts due to injuries and/or surgeries.
Defensively, he named cornerback Keith Baxter, safeties A.J. Leggett (moving from corner) and Andre Scott, linebackers Evan McKelvey and Raheem Waiters and lineman James Rouse. On offense, those expected to have limited activity are tackle Jordan Jeffries, center Cameron Dees, tight end Gator Hoskins and fullback Devon Johnson, who was going to be moved to linebacker until he needed a shoulder repair.
Any potential move by Johnson won’t take place until he’s healthy in August, Holliday said.
“I don’t think there are going to be a bunch of guys (sitting) out,” Holliday said. “There will be some guys wearing red ‘no-contact’ jerseys, but they’ll still get a lot out of those practices, even though it’s spring.
“We had guys like that last year, and those guys did everything with the exception of tackling. I don’t foresee anybody not participating at all, there will be some guys who will be on a limited basis, but they can get an awful lot out of practice as far as fundamentals and technique, just being there.”
Holliday said one personnel move on defense will be with D.J. Hunter, who is returning to his old strong safety spot from strongside linebacker, where he became a freshman All-America pick by The Sporting News last season.
Linebacker Kent Turene and corner Corey Tindal, who sat out last season, will be available for spring ball, Holliday said. Two others who didn’t enroll until the spring semester last year – defensive tackle Josh Brown and rush end/linebacker Gary Thompson – will sit out this spring and “be able to go with us the first summer session in May,” Holliday said. “To say they’re counting down the days would be an understatement.”
Holliday said the focus in spring drills will be to revamp and improve a defense that ranked near the bottom statistically in FBS last season, leading to the exit of former coordinator Chris Rippon (since hired at Columbia in the Ivy League).
The veteran Heater was brought in to change things, in hopes of helping a Herd offense – prolific in its production in 2012 under coordinator Bill Legg and returning Conference USA Player of the Year Rakeem Cato at quarterback – improve on the Herd’s 5-7 fortunes of last fall.
“No, 1, we’ve got to get the defense installed, and I’m sure Chuck will do a great job with that,” Holliday said. “Spring’s all about fundamentals and technique, and defensively we’ll spend a lot of time making sure that side (of the ball) gets exactly what’s needed, personnel groupings, looks.
“We’ll do everything we can do and have to do to make sure that thing is fixed. As far as practice schedules, what we’re doing in practice will cater toward what defense needs I’m sure, so Chuck gets what he needs to get that defense where it needs to be.
“That being said, offensively, we’re not near where we need to be. We did some really good things a year ago and we’ve got a lot of players back, but we’ve got to take another step forward.
“We can’t get complacent and think we’ve arrived, because we haven’t. There are a lot of things offensively we could do a lot better; we’ve got to make sure we have that confidence.”
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The Herd’s annual Pro Day is scheduled next Wednesday (March 13) at Edwards Stadium, with MU seniors working out before various NFL club scouts, personnel men and coaches.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, projected by some as a top 50 selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, leads the Herd prospects.
Mark Gale, Marshall’s Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations, runs the Herd’s Pro Day. He said seven players are scheduled for the session.
Joining Dobson are fellow wideouts Antavious Wilson and Andre Snipes-Booker, safeties Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, linebacker Devin Arrington and running back Martin Ward.