BOGACZYK: Price Looks Left and Right for New Tackles
The Word on the Herd-April 13, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Asked to tackle a question on the loss of Marshall’s top three interior defensive linemen from 2015, Coach Doc Holliday didn’t flinch.
“I like our young guys a lot,” Holliday said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a dropoff at all.”
Jarquez Samuel, Steve Dillon and Ricardo Williams were 2015 Herd seniors who played two spots, and their loss would seem to be significant. So, what does Marshall defensive tackles coach J.C. Price think of his boss’ remarks?
“That’s a strong statement, really strong,” Price said, smiling. “You lose three seniors, two of whom played a lot of football for you, and you replace them with guys who were backups. I know one thing – we like these guys’ toughness and their potential, but that’s still a strong statement.”
Last season, starters Samuel and Dillon and top backup Williams combined to play 1,505 snaps, with 100 tackles, 13 for loss and four sacks. They owned 46 career starts.
The top three in the Herd’s current spring practice – Nyquan Harris, Tomell One and Jason Smith – compiled 40 tackles, 5 TFLs and two sacks. None has made a collegiate start.
And there’s another change at tackle for the Herd this spring, too. Instead of playing as a nose (Samuel) and a tackle (3-technique position, Dillon), Price said Marshall is simply going with left and right tackles – and interchangeable parts.
“We’re playing left and right now, at least this spring,” said Price, in his fifth season on Holliday’s staff. “ We felt like we had a lot of the same body types this year as opposed to what we’ve had in the past, so we’re going through this spring playing left and right and we’ll see how that holds up.
“It will be something we’ll probably revisit during the summer, see if we like it or not. Right now, the personnel is interchangeable, two positions, and we need to get four to five guys to fill those positions and go.
“We’ll still use a rotation as we have in the past. I feel really good about those top three – Tomell, Nyquan and Jason – right now, halfway through spring practice. They all still have things they need to continue to improve on, but we’re feeling good about them.”
Harris was the No. 4 inside lineman last season. The 6-foot-2, 309-pound redshirt sophomore impressed when the 6-4, 290-pound One was hounded by injury after a solid true freshman season in 2014. Smith, a 6-3, 291-pounder, played only 146 snaps as a redshirt freshman last season.
Holliday likes what’s flanking those tackles, too.
“Our ends are back intact, with Gary (Thompson) and (Ryan) Bee playing so well, and Blake Keller there, too,” the Herd coach said. “And we’ve got young guys at end in (Ty) Tyler and (Damien) Dozier, guys we like a lot, and they’ll continue to grow.
“That gave us the ability to move Joe Massaquoi inside from end to tackle and get some depth there. We really liked Tomell as a freshman. He did not play as well last year as we thought he would, but with Nyquan and Jason Smith and One, we have three young guys we really like, and Malik Thompson is back in there after having labrum surgery. He’s able to play now, too.”
Asked if he’d call Harris, One and Smith a “big three,” Price said, “You said that, not me … They are big in size.”
The trio averages 297 pounds, 16 more than the 2015 “top three” average weight.
“Nyquan was a guy who really came on last season with the absence of Tomell (elbow and ankle injuries) in the lineup,” Price said. “He got a chance to play more and more as the season went on and by middle of season we were counting on him as one of those top four guys.
“His big thing was learning how to play hard, play with strain as we preach, every down. He took a step forward in that department. Nyquan came on. He showed a little more playmaking ability than the other two did.
“Jason really was kind of the odd-man-out. He was the fifth or sixth guy all year, depending on how Tomell was. Jason prepared well for the (St. Petersburg) bowl, but we only played 50 snaps in the bowl game, and when you have three seniors you’ve relied on heavily, the opportunity just isn’t there.”
Massaquoi, a redshirt senior who already has graduated, was moved inside this spring after backing up at end last season. He’s played 28 career games with 57 tackles, but he’s learning a new position.
“We haven’t totally decided if Joe is going to stay there; it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Price said of the move. “We definitely had some young athletic ends we wanted to make sure got reps in the spring (Dozier, Tyler and Milan Lanier).
“At times we felt like Joe lacked a little toughness. And to play inside, you have no choice but to become tougher or you get exposed. So, this was a much a deal for Joe’s development as anything. We kind of knew what Joe gave us out there (at end) and it was time for Joe … Sometimes when you’re an end and you lack playmaking ability, when you get a little closer to the ball, you start making those plays.
“That’s what we kind of hope will happen with Joe. In his situation, he’s a senior, and we respect that, but he’s got to do what Joe’s got to do. He knows what he has to do to play. If he does those things, he’ll play. And if he doesn’t, he’ll probably be the odd-man-out because we have some talented guys who are a playing a little more consistently with the ‘strain’ than Joe does right now.”
So, if Harris was Price’s No. 4 in 2015, who’s in that role this spring?
“Right now, we don’t have a fourth,” Price said. “Malik Thompson was in the mix last year until he hurt his shoulder and had labrum surgery, missed the year. He’s in there. Joe’s in that group. We have (252-pound) Aaron Dopson, a tough kid, walk-on (from Hagerstown, Md.). If he can get bigger, he can figure in the mix. Then there’s Channing Hames (sitting out 2015-16 to retain eligibility). He’ll join us this summer.
“Out of those four, I’ve got to get two more in the mix.”
As spring practice heads into its eighth of 15 workouts Thursday, Price feels strongly about One, Harris and Smith as the interior core of the Herd defensive front.
“The thing they need is just improve their overall football IQs, so the game slows down for them,” Price said. “They’re talented enough to make those plays that those other three guys made in the past. It’s all the little things – adjusting within plays to what the offense is doing, understanding what the offense is doing to them, how they’re trying to attack them, what the blocking schemes feel like without sometimes guessing.
“They just need to become more experienced, and the only way you can get that is by playing. But the thing I really like about all three of those guys is they’re tough guys. If anything, I think we’re physically bigger than we’ve ever been inside, and we may be as tough as we’ve been inside. And that’s good.”