April 18, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to sleuth out that if Marshall’s defense is going to take a needed major step forward in 2013, then Jermaine Holmes has to be one of the leaders.
Holmes rebounded late in 2012 from some midseason struggles at middle linebacker. The Valdosta, Ga., native finally became the fierce, nose-to-ball tackler expected after he returned as a part-time starter from 2011.
Now, the 5-foot-11, 248-pound middle linebacker who has made 17 career starts, is adapting to a system change under new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and linebackers coach Adam Fuller. Under former coordinator Chris Rippon, Holmes admittedly struggled with the part of his role that had Holmes making calls for the defense.
“I’m calling plays now, but it’s all it’s easier,” Holmes said Tuesday after the Herd’s 10th of 15 spring practices. “You don’t have to overthink, just go full speed.
“By making it simple, Coach Heater helps all of us. When you’re thinking too much, like in the old defense, in the middle, the whole defense is falling apart. When he came in he said he was going to make it simple, and he did.”
Holmes has been splitting time at “Mike” with 6-3, 235-pound redshirt senior Billy Mitchell, who stepped into the defense-calling role after returning from injury. Late in the 2012 season, Holmes returned to the middle and Mitchell moved outside and still made calls.
Fuller said Mitchell likely will play all three linebacker spots, as will last season’s middle ‘backer, Cortez Carter. They are playing the “box” positions with Holmes. True freshman Stefan Houston is primed for one of the outside starting roles and redshirt senior Derek Mitchell has impressed outside in moving up from safety, too.
Meanwhile, the Herd defense has been working with its base 4-3, plus a 4-2-5 and 3-3-5.
“It’s really simple,” Mitchell said of the new defense. “Coach Fuller and Coach Heater are doing great job simplifying it for us, making it more of a concept defense, rather than just ‘this play you do this, this play you do this.’ These concepts work for these plays, others work for different plays.
“We’re more comfortable – it’s different, having all these different packages, 4-3, 4-2-5, and we’re making it work. It’s not really a comfort level. We’re all learning. Definitely this year it’s more run to the ball. Emphasis is speed to the ball, make plays.
“We’re more of a reading defense, coming downhill; last year it was more straight down into a gap. Coach Fuller has taught us if have an open gap, take that one; if it’s not there, then go to the ball. And we’re using our hands a lot more, that’s where all the power is.”
Last season, Holmes started the first six games and while dealing with defense-setting duties, he made 36 tackles (7.5 for loss) in those six games. He didn’t start Weeks 7-9, then returned to the lineup. Senior weakside linebacker Devin Arrington was lost to injury, so Mitchell slid there and Holmes was back in the middle.
In the final three games, Holmes had 12, 16 and 14 tackles, with four tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception.
“When I sat out those games on the sidelines, that’s not where you want to be,” Holmes said. “When I finally got to start again, I just brought it on the field, and now I need to bring it on the field, too.
“There’s a big difference. The new coaches bring their own style. The whole mentality is different on the field, who they bring, how we line up, the enthusiasm.
“Coach Fuller, he’s laid-back and I like that a lot. He’s a funny type of dude, but then he can get serious and you know it. He teaches you when he gets on you. Don’t ever goof around on the field; you’d better go full speed.”
Fuller said there have been no surprises with Holmes in the middle.
“He’s a very talented, strong player who can bend his knees, and can run, and those were some things that were to be determined when we got here. He’s shown a lot of tools he can play with at that position and at that position it’s about find the ball, hit the ball, rip the ball out maybe.”
The 2012 issues that slowed Holmes are no more, Fuller said.
“I know there were times last year he didn’t play well, because on film you see 46 out there and then you don’t, then again you do,” said Fuller, who moved to Coach Doc Holliday’s staff after working as the defensive coordinator at Chattanooga. “What those reasons were, I’m not sure, I wasn’t here.
“But in my two months of dealing with Jermaine, he has not had any issues getting us lined up, getting us into a call. He’s gotten us in and out of calls this spring. We’ve put him in situations where we have asked him to do things for a communication standpoint, Coach Heater and him, so there really hasn’t been anything from that element from him that I felt needed to be addressed.
“Jermaine just needs to play football the way it’s supposed to be played more consistently, like a lot of our players on defense. I don’t think that’s related at all to calling defense.”
Holmes said he has learned “to use my hands more on blockers. Last year I didn’t do that much, and when Coach Fuller came, he said he wanted the whole linebacker group to use our hands more.
“The whole linebacker group is a whole lot better. I’m getting better at coverage, too. He’s taught me some techniques I didn’t know.”
Fuller said Holmes understands what to do, as do the other Herd linebackers on a unit that – once injured players like Kent Turene, Evan McKelvey and Raheem Waiters are joined in August by recruits like Neville Hewitt – could be among the team’s deepest positions.
“Jermaine has started to become more consistent,” Fuller said. “I didn’t see a lot of flash from him, we’re still working toward that, and by flash I mean plays being made … like at the end of last year you did see some, TFLs, fumble forced.
“That’s what that position is about. There’s no good defense in America that has linebackers that don’t make plays – the ones they’re supposed to make and then they make some special plays.
“If you’re playing good defense, those three guys, just by where they’re lined up, have to have an effect on each play. And Jermaine has shown flashes this spring that makes you excited about working with him.”