BOGACZYK: Selby’s Return to Guard Rooted in Herd Run Game
The Word on the Herd-March 28, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When spring practice is sprung Tuesday at Edwards Stadium, Marshall football will open Coach Doc Holliday’s seventh year with a throwback up front.
The Herd is returning the right side of its offensive line to the 2014 starting tandem of Michael Selby at guard and Clint Van Horn at tackle. That combination was just one ingredient in Marshall’s march to a Conference USA title, 13-1 record and final national ranking in 2014.
Selby moved to center for the 2015 season, following four-year starter Chris Jasperse at the spot. Van Horn, a two-time all-conference lineman, missed all but 10 quarters last season after twice suffering a torn right pectoral muscle and after subsequent surgery was granted an additional year of eligibility as a so-called medical redshirt.
Both are 2016 seniors.
“We’re moving Mike Selby, trying to get our two big road graders at guard,” Holliday said. “He’s a really good center, but he may be a better guard. We’ve got (Jordan) Dowrey in there, too, moving to left guard, and we feel pretty good going forward at center with (Nate) Devers.
“We feel like right guard best position for Selby, the spot where we can get the most out of him … What we’re asking those guys to do at the guard position is play like road graders – be strong, tough guys in there, blocking in the run game. With Selby and Dowrey in there, it will give us that. And we’ve got good depth at tackle.”
Holliday and Marshall’s fourth-year offensive line coach, Alex Mirabal, said the Herd will work much of spring without redshirt sophomores Dowrey and Devers.
Mirabal said Devers is possible for some “individual work late in spring” after undergoing minor surgery. The line coach said Dowrey is an unlikely participant in the 15 spring practices, following a surgical procedure of his own.
Dowrey started the final 12 games at right guard in 2015, after Devers started the opener, then was limited to 143 snaps last season due to a high ankle sprain and coping with the death of his father in early October. Dowrey will move to the left guard spot vacated by Sebastian “Swede” Johansson, who was an All-C-USA first team selection as a 2015 senior.
The trio of Selby, Dowrey and Devers, however, would give the Herd a strong inside trio of “big ‘uns” on what Holliday says “could be our best offensive line, potentially, since I’ve been here.”
In the summer of 2015, Devers and Selby ranked first and third, respectively, among Herd players in the bench press in strength and conditioning testing. Dowrey was a two-time Virginia Group AAA state wrestling heavyweight champ in his final years at Handley High in Winchester, Va.
Van Horn’s return goes along with returning starting left tackle Sandley Jean-Felix, a 2016 redshirt junior. Their backups are redshirt sophomore Fred Binot (right), who started the Herd’s St. Petersburg Bowl victory over Connecticut, and junior AJ Addison (left), a seven-game starter in 2015.
The decision by offensive coordinator Bill Legg and Mirabal to revamp the Herd front is rooted in the 6-foot-2, 289-pound Selby, who has made 27 career starts.
“It’s the fact that we want to do a better job bullying the A gaps (center-guard gaps) in the run game,” Mirabal said. “We needed to move Michael to center last year to close the gap between Jasperse and whoever took his place. In the process of doing that, we never really closed the gap at the right guard spot.
“In order for our offense to function the way we want, our run game has to be dominating in between the A gaps. So, that was the major reason why Coach Legg and I thought it best to get that back … owning the A gaps, bullying the A gaps.”
The Herd front will be blocking in the run game for a trio of backs – Hyleck Foster, Keion Davis and Tony Pittman – that took the ball once 2015 senior star Devon Johnson went out with a back injury at midseason. The three combined for 981 yards.
In spring practice – the Herd will work out Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through April 30 – the recovery periods for Dowrey and Devers will allow Mirabal to get more reps for some younger players, too.
Redshirt freshman Levi Brown will start with the “ones” at center, backed up by redshirt junior Cody Collins, who also is the “one” this spring at left guard. Matt Harless is No. 2 at left guard in spring drills.
Backing up Selby is former Spring Valley High star Alex Locklear, a 6-5, 318-pounder who Mirabal said “can play tackle, but I think he can be a bully inside at guard.”
Mirabal said also in the mix with the “twos” is sophomore transfer Joey Maddox, who started at guard as a true freshman at FCS member Savannah State last season.
Maddox, a center for the Herd, has joined his brother at Marshall. Jeremiah Maddox, a midyear enrollee at Marshall, is a true freshman safety from Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Mirabal said the Herd front has the most depth he’s seen in his four years in the program, and added there’s another plus to reuniting Selby and Van Horn on the right side of the Herd offensive line.
“It’s tremendous, because those guys truly communicate without saying a word,” the Marshall offensive line coach said. “They’re both ecstatic about the move because they know the comfort they have with each other; that they can adjust to anything.
“There’s only so much you can practice in terms of, ‘OK, this is where the X is going to be.’ Those Xs move on game day. And when you have those guys together there, with their experience, they’ll be able to block things they’ve even never seen in practice. It’s invaluable.
“Bottom line though, those A gaps are kind of where our run game begins and ends. That played a major part in the reasoning for the move. It’s about getting the run game stuff back. We felt looking back to 2014 that Mike Selby, at guard, was a much more critical piece to that than even we gave him credit for.”