March 25, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Are you ready for some football?
“Oh, yeah, we’re really ready to go,” Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said Monday on the eve of the opener of his fourth spring practice with the Thundering Herd. “Anytime you start spring practice you’re excited, and I’m really enthused this time especially because we’ve got a lot of young players back. And in the offseason we added a lot of new staff and I’m anxious to see them work with the players on the field.”
That will start Tuesday at Edwards Stadium at 3:30 p.m., when the Herd holds the first of 15 spring practices, including the annual Green-White Game on April 27 at 2 p.m.
Holliday’s team will work Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week before moving to a regular Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule. Weekday practices are scheduled at 3:30 p.m., with Saturday drills at 9:15 a.m. Practices are open to the public, with the exception of the April 13 and 20 scrimmages, which will be open to those who present a valid Big Green membership card or a copy of their 2013 football season ticket renewal form. Due to the ongoing construction of the sky suites to the press box, anyone wishing to attend these practices should enter the stadium through the northeast concourse gate (Gate D) and should sit on the east side of the stadium as the west side will be closed.
Any chance Tuesday’s iffy weather forecast might change things?
“None,” Holliday said. “We’re going. Flurries, cold … we’ll be out there.”
Coming off a 5-7 season, the Herd was as proficient on offense in 2012 as it was deficient on defense. From the 2012 season finale at East Carolina, the Herd loses only one starter on offense and four on defense. That team had only eight seniors.
Holliday said a particular focus in spring drills will be retooling a defense under new coordinator Chuck Heater
The Herd coach plans to discuss specifics of staff position responsibilities with the media after Tuesday’s first practice session, since the Herd has six new aides in an unusually fluid offseason on the staff.
“We talk to the offense every day about getting better,” Holliday said. “We don’t want the offense to take a step back, but there’s no doubt we’re going to cater to the defense and do some things we may not normally do to help them -- but we’ve got to get better on offense, too.
“We’ve spent a lot of time the last 2-3 months on how we’re going to structure practice to make sure the defense is getting the physicality it needs, the two-back stuff it needs, the power football it needs in order to become successful.
“With that bring said, in the (Conference USA) we’re in, that defense also has to line up against three and four wides and play at a very fast tempo because that’s what the new guy at Southern Miss (Coach Todd Monken) is going to do, coming in from Oklahoma State, that’s what they do.
“Several teams are fast-tempo, run a lot of plays, spread formations that you have to be able to defense in space. Our defense has to be able to defend our own offense, and we’ll work a lot on that, too.”
After the Herd lost veteran receivers Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson – both rank among the top 11 in career receptions at MU – Holliday said he’s excited about seeing “the young wideouts we have back, how much they’ve improve, see them step up, and see (Penn State transfers) Shawney Kersey and Devon Smith, too.
“I want to see how those three freshman tailbacks from last season have grown up, and I’m excited about our offensive line. They’re all back, so we should be better (with a top six of all seniors or fourth-year juniors). They’ve all played, so youth is no longer an excuse up front.
“It’s time to go play, go become better players, a better unit. And Alex Mirabal has come aboard, and he’s as good an offensive line coach as I think I’ve ever been around.”
While about 10 players will be limited with red jerseys this spring, Holliday said some of those will practice, “just not have contact.” He said two players that might have been expected to return are no longer on the squad – defensive tackle Marques Aiken and wideout Jermain Kelson.
Aiken, a two-year starter, “graduated (this spring) and decided not to play a fifth year, a choice he’s made” Holliday said. Kelson, a junior last season, had seven catches in 11 games a year ago. The Herd coach said the Miamian left the team “for personal reasons.”
Holliday said the veteran Heater will challenge the defense this spring, and that offensive coordinator Bill Legg, in coaching the quarterbacks rather than tight ends “will have a better handle on what (junior Rakeem) Cato likes, and what our quarterbacks need. Billy has done a tremendous job with getting our offense going, just tremendous.”
He’s looking for the same on the other side of the ball, as Heater mixes and matches with personnel he’ll have on the field for the first time.
“Defensively, in order for us to get where we want to go, we have to get a lot better,” Holliday said. “There’s no better person I can think of to be in charge of a defense than Chuck Heater. We’ve got three new assistants as well, it’s up to the players.
“We’ve got guys there who are talented, who just have to become better football players.”
The Herd coach praised the offseason weight room work under new strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair in building a foundation for 2013.
“I’m impressed with what I’ve seen in the players after working with Scott,” Holliday said. “I’ve seen gains the kids have made there as far as strength goes, but now it’s time to translate that weight room work onto the football field.
“That’s because it comes down to that. All of that, how much you can lift, how much you can squat, how much you can hang clean, how fast you are, the bottom line is, now, you have to be a football player. Spring is an opportunity to see that, starting tomorrow. We’re going to coach them extremely hard.”
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With the weather not that much different than it might be on Dec. 25 on Monday, new Herd receivers coach Mike Furrey is like a kid on Christmas morning.
“I can’t wait to get started,” said Furrey, a former NFL receiver who was the Kentucky Christian University coach the past two seasons.
With NFL Draft prospect Dobson and Wilson gone, one of Furrey’s jobs this spring will be to establish new rotations among a receiver corps led by rising junior Tommy Shuler, who starred in the slot with 110 catches, a Marshall season record.
Furrey said returning backup Davonte Allen will be limited physically in spring drills. Penn State transfer Smith – nicknamed “Moo-Moo” – recently had a screw removed from a foot and Furrey said, “It’s feeling much better; he’s a little gimpy, but after the first week he could be full-bore.”
Furrey said the Herd will start drills with Demetrius Evans outside on the left, with Craig Wilkins on the right and Shuler inside. He said Kersey – the other Nittany Lion transfer – would work outside, as will Jazz King, Chris Alston and Dameon Garrett. Smith and DeAndre Reaves join Shuler inside, with Jack Gammon “our utility guy.”
“We’ll keep the competition going through the spring,” Furrey said. “The guys are ready to go. I can’t wait. It will be really neat tomorrow.”
And if it’s 35 degrees and snow is on the field?
“Won’t matter,” Furrey said. “It will not matter. We’ll be there.”