April 17, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Marshall takes to the Edwards Stadium field for its 12th practice of the spring on Friday – and an important scrimmage session – its Heisman Trophy candidate, Rakeem Cato, likely will get 75 percent of the reps at quarterback.
However, the senior from Miami isn’t likely to be the focus, as the Thundering Herd continues to search for Cato’s backup eight days before the Green-White Game closes spring workouts.
At Friday’s scrimmage – a 1:30 p.m. practice start with scrimmage work commencing around 2, and open to the public as are all Herd weekday workouts – veteran Herd offensive coordinator and QB coach Bill Legg will focus on backups Gunnar Holcombe, Cole Garvin and Kevin Anderson as much as his star pupil.
“I can’t allow Rakeem Cato not to take enough reps to continue to progress, so he’s playing,” Legg said after Thursday’s workouts without pads. “He’s going to play a lot, and he’s probably going to take about 75 percent of the snaps with the first group.
“It’s going to continue to be that way through next Thursday (the last practice before the Green-White), and then we’re going to make the decision how many snaps he needs to take in the spring game, in a dumbed-down offense.
“Rakeem needs to continue to get work, continue to play, needs to continue to develop relationships with the other receivers that are in there that he hasn’t had a chance to play a lot with. And so that’s important.”
Holcombe is No. 2 “for now,” stresses Legg. The redshirt sophomore figures to get some work with the starting unit in Friday’s scrimmage.
“Gunnar has done enough to this point to put himself in a position where he’s going to start off with the twos,” Legg said. “I may give him – in that 25 percent that Rakeem’s not going – a few of those snaps with the ones, and I’ve got to figure out where the separation point is with Cole, with Kevin, and who can push Gunnar the hardest for that backup job.
“Right now, we’ve got three young guys that have varying abilities. They all have strengths and all have weaknesses, like all young players do. They have to continue to work extremely hard to improve on their weaknesses and take advantage of their strengths, but at some point in time, (No.) 12 is going to be gone, and somebody has to have positioned himself to take that job over when Rakeem is gone.
“I’m not ready to earmark anyone yet, no one individual to where that is, so those guys are going to get reps, probably about half of the twos, and depending on how things are going, maybe one of them is going really well and will run a set with the ones.”
Legg said that if the Herd were playing an opening game Friday, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Holcombe “would be No. 2, just because he’s earned that to this point.”
Legg does have goals for the three backups in the Herd’s second scrimmage.
“From Gunnar, I want to see consistency,” Legg said. “He knows what to do, he knows where to go, so be consistent with where you’re going. I want to see the other two guys – and they’re relatively new to the system -- to be decisive. Eliminate indecision. Don’t be guessing. Have a plan and go execute that plan.
“If we come back later and say, ‘You know what? You probably should have had a different plan.’ That’s fine. But have a plan, and execute it, and know why you’re doing what you’re doing and execute it properly.”
Legg said Holcombe’s numbers in last Saturday’s scrimmage – he was just 4-of-17 passing for 36 yards and an interception – are not to be ignored. However, they are not anywhere close to the total interpretation Legg and Coach Doc Holliday bring to the backup QB separation.
“At the end of the day, it still comes down to making plays, but you turn the video on and he’s 4-for-17, but he’s got four (receiver) drops,” Legg said of Holcombe. “He’s got three or four missed assignments in route-running by receivers and tight ends and backs or whomever happen to be running where his eyes are supposed to be.
“The quarterback sometime is overpraised, and sometime he’s over-criticized, because at the end of the day, it’s like the guy driving the bus. He’s not a mechanic, so when the daggone bus throws a fan belt, is that because the driver is doing a lousy job? No, but he’s the guy who’s going to get all of the grief for it.
“At the same time, he runs off the road, it is his fault. So, there are a lot of moving parts, and they all have to work together for a quarterback to be able to function at a high level, but he’s got to be consistent with not panicking. OK, so a guy ran a wrong route. Then, he has to react to that.”
And while Herd followers want someone anointed as Cato’s “caddy” ASAP, Legg said progress is more important at this juncture of the process. He used Holcombe’s first practice following the 4-for-17 as an example.
“On Tuesday, Gunnar came out here after watching the film from Saturday, and we didn’t have as many mistakes as when he was in there,” Legg said. “That helped him, but we still had some mistakes that when I saw Tuesday’s practice, I saw the reaction to what went on. ‘The kid ran the wrong route and he didn’t throw him the football, and the kid ended up getting picked off, or it would fall incomplete. So, he went on to the next read or extended the play and kept his eyes on the field or scrambled out and got a yard or two and now we’re able to be in second-and-8 instead of (the opponent) having the football.
“When I talk consistency, that’s what I’m talking about. When the first read is not there – no matter why it’s not there – we’ve got to move on to the second read. Our guys are pretty good – Gunnar’s pretty good -- when the first read’s not there, in moving on to the second read. But where his struggle was Saturday, when a guy ran the wrong route, fell down, whatever, it’s no different than when a guy’s covered.”
And that’s where Legg wants to see progress in Friday’s scrimmage.
“That’s what he’s got to react to,” the Herd offensive coordinator said. “And what I saw Tuesday, just that. Throwing is not an issue. He can throw the crap out of the football. It’s who do I throw it to, when do I throw it to him and why don’t I throw it to them.”