March 29, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As one of only 108 players in major college football history with 4,000 career rushing yards, Chris Barclay knows how a running back can get where he needs to go.
Now, as Marshall’s only new football assistant coach for 2014, Barclay is trying to impart that wisdom to the Thundering Herd backfield that is without 2013 senior Essray Taliaferro.
Who among talented Florida natives and redshirt juniors Steward Butler, Kevin Grooms and Remi Watson will replace Taliaferro as the starter?
Even Barclay, the 2005 ACC Player of the Year at Wake Forest, doesn’t know just yet.
“They’ve got the ability with the ball in their hands,” said Barclay, who joined Coach Doc Holliday’s staff from William and Mary three weeks ago after 2013 running backs coach Thomas Brown left for Wisconsin. “The question is about having to make strides this spring in pass protection, make sure we get our pre-snap reads so we can play fast, diagnose blitzes.
“That’s an area we definitely have to improve on. We don’t have a lot of big backs necessarily, but we’ve got some guys with big hearts. And when you have that, it’s not so much a matter of physics – I’m smaller than him; I’m not going to win this block.
“It’s effort, technique and desire. And we’ve got to catch the ball a little better out of the backfield, too.”
In his pre-spring practice media session earlier this week, Holliday lauded Taliaferro, who will graduate this May and emerged as No. 1 when many observers figured he’d play behind the aforementioned trio.
“Taliaferro had a tremendous year for us last season,” Holliday said. “It was kind of a quiet 1,200 yards or whatever he ended up with (1,140). He was a very productive player and did a great job with protections, sticking his nose up in the ‘A’ gap blocking ‘backers and protecting (quarterback Rakeem) Cato. He became a really good all-around back.
“Those other guys are talented backs, but they’ve got to become good all-around backs like Taliaferro did. They’ve got to be able to protect. They’ve got to be able to take care of the football. The actual making plays in space and running with it, that’s easy for those three. It’s the other aspects of being a great running back – it’s toughness, protection and securing the football.
“They just need to become more complete backs. And Chris Barclay, I’m glad he’s here. He may have been as complete a back as there was in the ACC. He may have been the most productive back there has been in the history of the ACC. He did a great job taking care of the football. When I hired him, I told him to make sure these guys are like you and play like you.”
Barclay, 30 and a Louisville, Ky., native, wasn’t a big guy in the backfield at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. But he averaged 210 carries per season and finished with 4,032 yards and 40 touchdowns for the Demon Deacons (2002-05) before getting pieces of three seasons in the NFL.
How does Barclay – a first-time expectant father in August – sell to the Herd trio what he did and what they need to do.?
“I’m grading every rep, every rep, and I’m going to make it loud and clear that that is how I’m going to start to formulate a depth chart, based on those grades,” Barclay said. “And if you can’t get it done, then I’ll find a guy who can get it done.
“In the meantime, I’m not giving up on a guy who has struggled in pass protection. I’m going to keep working on his technique, working with his eyes, so he can improve in that area, because as a running back, you don’t just want to be a one-trick pony, you want to be able to do it all – catch, block and run with the football.
“It’s a clean slate for them. I’m new, and I told them everybody’s coming in with an equal opportunity and I’m looking for consistency, the guy who shows up every day, takes great notes in the meetings, is pro-active in his development, watching film. Then, come out here and give me great effort in whatever he’s doing – and be consistent with the effort, be consistent with the playmaking ability in practice that Bill (Legg, offensive coordinator) stresses throughout the week, then come Saturday that’s the guy I’m going to play.”
It’s the second straight year of that kind of challenge for Butler, Grooms and Watson, who have combined for 3,005 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns in two seasons.
“What they lack is leadership, no question,” Barclay said. “I think ‘Tally,’ from what I understand, was a pretty good leader. He wasn’t a man of many words, but I think every day he showed up and was consistent. And that’s something I’ve been preaching to those guys the whole time.
“Consistency plays. Consistency builds trust. And consistency wins games. So, we’ve got to go undefeated in practice every day. Now, I know we won’t win every rep, but we’ve got to win a majority of them. I’m looking for the guy who is going to win the majority of the reps every day. And that’s who’s going to play.”
Holliday said Butler, Grooms and Watson “all have the talent to be a complete back like Tally became. Tally just grew up; it wasn’t just his athleticism. It was his toughness, the leadership he provided.”
I asked Barclay was part of his own game he thought was overlooked, a piece of his performance he’s trying to peddle to his new charges.
“I think it was playing hard,” Barclay said. “Play with passion and enjoy the game. Play every play like it’s your last rep. I wasn’t the biggest guy on the field, but I made sure every day in practice -- whether I was blocking, out on a route or carrying the football -- I did it at 100 percent.
“That’s what I tell those guys: as long as you give me effort, I’ll coach you right, but I can’t coach effort. I want you to come out here, love what you do, play with passion and I’ll coach you right. I’ll get your technique right, but you’ve got to give me great effort on every single play.”
Taliaferro started every game last season and finished with the No. 11 rushing yardage season in Herd history. Watson has four career starts, Grooms three. Butler doesn’t have a career start.
So, a question among many in Herd Nation – including the three backs – is not only who will start, but how many will play.
Brown stated a year ago in spring drills that he was primarily a one-back man. And that’s what Barclay was – he called it “carrying the mail” -- for former Wake Coach Jim Grobe, the former Marshall assistant in the ‘80s.
That was a decade ago, however.
“The way the game is evolving, I think you need to have two backs, at least,” Barclay said. “If you can play three, great. You have to have different types of tools in the toolbox – you can’t have all wrenches; you might need a screwdriver one day.
“And I think we have that. You have to have some ‘space’ guys, you have to have some guys who maybe catch it a little better, and you have to have a bigger body in there to grind out those tough yards.
“So, I think you can play three backs. It’s difficult during the course of the game, and one guy ends up being a situational-type guy, but I think you can roll ‘em based on a series, go one-two, one-two, and then situational with a third.”
The battle isn’t going to be won anytime soon, either, Barclay said, when asked when he might decide the pecking order.
“It will go into preseason practice in August,” Barclay said. “I’ll have a semblance of a depth chart formulated by the end of spring. And I think we need to get at least halfway through spring for me to get an understanding of who’s being the most consistent.
“But I believe this spring ball is a chance to develop these guys, because Taliaferro has moved on. None of these guys have been the guy. They’ve been more situational guys, kind of backups in some spots, so it’s important for me to see who is going to emerge as far as leadership is concerned.
“That’s a big part of it to me. And leadership is more than on the field. It’s being in the classroom, it’s on campus, it’s in the community. It’s doing the right things at all times.”
And Barclay is going to be keeping a tally on who might be the next Tally.