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BOGACZYK: Sunny Day Brings Smiles for Herd Offense

April 18, 2015



            HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- There was something different Saturday morning at Edwards Stadium as Marshall finished Week 4 of its five-week spring football practice in preparation for Coach Doc Holliday's sixth season.

            The sun shone. So did several Herd players.

            You can scour every position on the Thundering Herd's 2015 early depth chart, and you still won't find the most valuable player on spring ball.

            That's because with 12 practices down, only five have been held outdoors. The MVP is next to the stadium, that vast indoor facility Marshall opened last fall as part of the Chris Cline Athletic Complex.

            With the Tri-State getting 6.2 inches of rain -- more is forecast Sunday -- in the first 16 days of April, the indoor facility has given the Herd good work even when it's poured or thundered. Add in bowl workouts last December and offseason conditioning during a frigid winter, and that place has been the right prescription for at least one Doc.



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            Everyone in "Gang Green" wants to know who is going to follow record-setting former quarterback Rakeem Cato behind center. It's the overarching focus of these drills, for good reason.

            This second scrimmage pointing toward next Saturday's Green and White Game left no indication other than James Madison junior transfer Michael Birdsong is going to be tough to push off the top line of the depth chart.

            And that's not just because he's a big, strong-armed -- and surprisingly agile -- 6 feet 5, 242 pounds.

            Holliday, however, wasn't quite ready to anoint the redhead from Matoaca, Va., just yet.

            "The bottom line is that whomever our quarterback is going to end up being ... we're getting a little bit closer to getting that figured out," Holliday said. "There's some ability out there on the field. They can all make some throws. I saw some good things out there from all of them, so that's good.

            "By the time the spring game is over, we'll have a decision. We want to. I think it's further enough along that we feel good about the direction we're going and I think by the time the spring game is over that we'll be able to make a decision."

            Redshirt junior Gunnar Holcombe, Cato's No. 2 last season, and true freshman Chase Litton, from Tampa, Fla., also played in the controlled session. Redshirt freshman Cole Garvin is behind those two.

            "There's one thing to have the arm strength and all those things, and the other thing is a guy that finds a way to make plays," Holliday said when asked about Litton. "He seems like he's one of those kind of guys that can turn a bad situation into a good situation, and that's what good players do.

            "He looks like he has it. He still has a long way to go. He's a young freshman, trying to figure things out. I'm glad he's here."

            As for Garvin's lack of repetitions for a second straight Saturday scrimmage, Holliday said, "It's hard to get four guys ready to go. We'll take a look at this film and see where we are and move forward next week."

            Birdsong was 14-of-24 through the air for 148 yards, while Holcombe went 7-of-21 for 111 yards. He had a 65-yard scoring pass to freshman tight end Kaleb Harris and threw two interceptions. Litton was 12-of-20 for 151 with a 10-yard score to wideout Justin Hunt. The freshman QB also ran for a 24-yard score.

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            Offensively, the Herd has more of its prominent parts working in spring drills. The most notable absences are two senior All-Conference USA picks from last season -- right tackle Clint Van Horn and running back Devon "Rockhead" Johnson.

            At running back, redshirt senior Steward Butler continues to shine with reps that Johnson and fellow senior Remi Watson can't work as they rehab from shoulder surgery.             At right tackle, as Van Horn looked on, veteran Tom Collins ran with the ones, and a newcomer to his left with the first group was redshirt freshman right guard Nate Devers. Cody Collins, who backed up Michael Selby at right guard in 2014 -- Selby is now the starting center -- is the second-unit center.

            Coordinator Bill Legg's unit racked up 652 yards on 112 plays (5.8 yards per play), including 410 yards through the air (33-of-65 passing) and 252 in 47 rushes.

            Butler ran for 102 yards on 14 carries, with two TDs, while his backup, Tony Pittman, had a 12-for-61 day. Receivers Hyleck Foster and Angelo Jean-Louis each had five catches, as did true freshman tight end Emanuel Byrd.

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            On defense, Marshall is without more prime personnel than it's missing on offense this spring.

            Weakside linebacker Evan McKelvey is still bouncing back after surgery on a second knee for an ACL tear last October and starting corner/nickel Corey Tindal had offseason arm surgery. Up front, Holliday and his staff also are taking it easy with senior tackles Jarquez Samuel and Steve Dillon.

            The Herd boss doesn't seem to have questions about that unit.

            "There are a lot of pieces that aren't out there right now," he said. "You try to look at some players from a personnel standpoint, to see if we have some (young) guys that can make some plays. There's a lot that isn't out there; the Jarquezs, the Evan McKelveys, the Corey Tindals.

            "So when you put all those pieces together on defense, we're going to be OK, but the encouraging thing is that I see some young players that I think can help us when we want those pieces to start getting put together.

            "Unfortunately, I thought we gave up way too many plays today from a defensive standpoint but there's some reasons for that."

            And that's where development comes into play for the Herd. When the spring drills began, defensive coordinator Chuck Heater had redshirt freshman walk-on Chase Hancock listed No. 2 at strongside (Sam) linebacker, behind veteran D.J. Hunter.

            The 6-2, 206-pound Hancock, from Daniels and Beckley's Woodrow Wilson High (like Van Horn), continued to show why Heater had that faith. He had seven tackles, an interception and a pass breakup in the Saturday session.

            "It's called player development," Holliday said when asked about players making a name for themselves in these 15 spring workouts. "We take great pride and we try to do a great job developing players around here.

            "Hancock is a guy that ... We've been working hard to get good walk-ons -- and he is. That Beckley area has turned out a lot of good players for us and we're sure glad he's here because he's going to play a lot of football for us. He's a good player."

            Another walk-on, junior safety Cody Carter of Barboursville, posted eight tackles (including a half-tackle for loss), a breakup and forced a fumble.