April 18, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As Marshall finishes spring football practice next week with the Green-White Game and points toward the 2014 season, the focus has been on developing a No. 2 quarterback and outside receiver reliability.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater has a different approach, and one thing was obvious Friday afternoon in the Thundering Herd’s second controlled scrimmage at Edwards Stadium.
Marshall is short on cornerbacks.
Granted, returning starter Darryl “Swag” Roberts didn’t play – because he didn’t need to play. The “ones” for the day were sophomore Corey Tindal – last season’s nickel back – and Virginia Tech sophomore transfer Donaldven Manning.
The backups were Huntington High redshirt freshman walk-on Mark Shaver, moved from safety, and Andre Scott, who has spent the spring at wideout. Pushed into emergency relief when Scott was shaken up late in the session was receiver Peter Helow, who donned 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive tackle James Rouse’s No. 11 white jersey to play corner for a few series.
“Battlefield promotions,” Heater said, smiling.
The veteran coordinator also coaches the Herd secondary, so he knows first-hand what’s what on the last line of defense.
Marshall is seriously counting on the return of Keith Baxter, who redshirted last season and had been plagued by multiple injuries in his time at MU. Roberts, Baxter and Tindal figure to be the top three at the position.
Sophomore Michael Johnson
was on crutches Friday. Heater said the sophomore had a staph infection cut out of his right knee earlier this week, and is out for the final week of spring drills. Between Johnson and Manning, one needs to be able to join Roberts, Baxter and Tindal as Heater’s core four corners. Johnson also has played nickel earlier in the spring.
“It’s always an issue; you never have enough of them (at corner),” Heater said. “We have three freshmen coming in, so that helps. Coming out of spring evaluation, the number of guys you can play with, it’s always short in this time of year. But we do have five, with help on the way.”
The newcomers figures to be De’Andre “Chocolate” Wilson, a 2013 signee from Myrtle Beach, S.C., who will be eligible this fall; and two February signees in Georgia junior college transfer Quintavious “Q” Knight – a former JUCO teammate of Herd linebacker Neville Hewitt -- and high school signee Antavis Rowe of Atlanta.
“The three coming out here in the fall helps, but you don’t know if they’re going to be good enough right away,” Heater said. “It’s not hard mentally; it’s just hard physically. The skills … You usually are able to get guys to play as a third or fourth corner in that situation, but not an everyday corner.”
Heater is likely to be looking for his fourth corner between Johnson and Manning, with the former having an edge until he needed spring-ending surgery. Then, it’s the three newcomers on Heater’s radar.
“If we can get one out of the three right away, good,” the Herd coordinator said, “and I think we can get that done. It’s not a mental thing, learning the game. It’s competing and toughness, and how do you deal with it when you get beat deep, all the challenges to it from a physical standpoint. I’m confident one of those three can provide some depth there.”
Elsewhere on defense, the Herd had an impressive 11 sacks in the scrimmage, but Heater said what is more important at this point in the game is what in baseball is called “player development,” with regulars Roberts, Rouse, defensive end Ra’Shawde Myers and linebackers Evan McKelvey and Hewitt not participating because of injury or no need to push veteran players.
“What’s really good is we continue to develop our defensive front, which is where we need to develop some depth,” Heater said. “We have guys getting great reps, (Armonze) Daniel, (Joe) Massaquoi (at end), Ricardo Williams, Josh Brown inside. We need that depth there, always.
“At linebacker, we played (outside linebackers Raheem) Waiters and Stefan (Houston) some inside, which is good, because the more versatile they are, the deeper we are. It’s a depth issue up front, so what we got today – the reps are really good, a benefit in my mindset.
“In the back end, we’ve got three safeties (A.J. Leggett, Tiquan Lang, Taj Letman) who have played a lot of football here for us, and they’re getting good reps. At corner, we’re down a bit in numbers. We knew that. You’ve got to come out of spring with an idea of who your guys are, and hopefully you’ve got help coming in the fall, and then you go and teach ‘em.”