BOGACZYK: Herd’s Samuel Gets Stormy on Preseason Forecasts
The Word on the Herd-June 25, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – If Jarquez Samuel is looking for a nickname entering his redshirt senior football season at Marshall, he might choose “No-Name.”
The nose tackle from Valdosta, Ga., is the only returning starter on a Herd defensive front that’s becoming known for its depth and personnel rotation. He had a superb spring practice against Marshall’s offensive line. Just ask Coach Doc Holliday’s staff, including defensive tackles coach J.C. Price.
Yet, in all of those magazines and on all of those websites that select preseason All-Conference USA teams – some with as many as four teams -- there’s been nary a mention of Samuel.
Uh, does that bother the 6-foot-5, 285-pounder?
“A lot … a whole lot,” Samuel said earlier this week in the Dunfee Weight Room. “I’ve got an edge about it. It’s kind of weird. When the Phil Steele (C-USA selections, with four teams) team came out, Coach Price texts me. Four teams, I’m not there; it really got to me.
“He and I have a bond, and I told him I just couldn’t wait for the season. I’ve got the biggest edge going into the season, playing with a chip on my shoulder. I feel like I can’t be blocked. My mindset is nobody’s going to stop me.
“I’ve put five years in here. I’ve still got something to prove to people. Maybe nobody respects me, so I’ve got to go out and gain respect, and that’s what I’ll try to do.”
Perhaps some of Samuel’s anonymity comes from playing next to former Herd tackle James Rouse, who was a dominant, two-time all-conference player in his final two Herd seasons. Rouse and 2014 starting ends Ra’Shawde Myers and Arnold Blackmon have graduated, so there’s a large void to be filled.
Marshall veteran defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said “the dynamics of all that” in preseason player forecasts isn’t something he worries about.
“Besides,” Heater said, “I don’t think anybody had (former Herd linebacker) Neville Hewitt on the charts a year ago, and he ends up being the conference player of the year on defense. So, does it matter? All I know is Jarquez has played for one of the best defenses in the league the last two years.
“It’s like when ‘Swagg’ (former MU cornerback Darryl Roberts, a rookie with the New England Patriots) is drafted and the journalists that cover the Patriots asked me about Swagg not being invited to the NFL Combine.
“’Does that surprise you?’ they ask. I told them, ‘I don’t do their job; I’ve got a job.’ What goes on there, I don’t know. It appears they failed on that one. We knew Swagg was good and the scouts are here every day, but it’s a very exacting thing. They should be more exacting than they are, but no one is perfect.
“With Jarquez, I saw him on tape before I came to Marshall when I was evaluating the job, and I saw a young guy with a lot of talent but was a freshman and looked like it. The second year, there was a little improvement -- not there yet. Last season, it was a substantial step, a significant step, and he continues to be on that course as far as growth and maturity.”
That growth was evident during Marshall’s spring drills, when the Herd offense had to go up against Samuel every day. If Rouse had presented something of a template for that situation, it wasn’t quite the same.
Holliday and his staff held Rouse – a sixth-year player in 2014 after missing nearly two years due to multiple serious injuries -- out of plenty of drills to protect the former tackle’s surgically repaired back and Achilles.
Suddenly, Samuel played as big as his great smile.
“What Jarquez made were quantum leaps,” Herd offensive line coach Alex Mirabal said. “And it was to the point where I thought he was the most dominant player on our team – not on the defensive line, but the entire team. You don’t want to do it in spring, but we game-planned him in the spring in order to be able to run the football effectively … because he was that disruptive. I’d never done that in my college coaching career.
“You started to feel his power and you started to feel his length. He’s extremely long for an interior guy. He’s 6-5, but with his arm length, he’s a 6-8, 6-9 kind of guy. You’ve really got to adjust to that. And not only was he playing to his size and to his length, but he played hard on a down-by-down basis. That’s the biggest growth I saw from Jarquez, in that he brought it every single snap.
“As great a player as James Rouse for us the last two years, I thought Jarquez was a lot more disruptive than James ever was – and that’s not to knock James. It’s more of a compliment on Jarquez. In my opinion, he the most dominant player in spring practice for us, and in the long run I think that’s going to help us up front in case we face a guy like that.”
Mirabal said Rouse’s veteran presence and performance may have caused many to overlook Samuel, who because a full-time starter last season and shared the nose spot with classmate Steve Dillon, who has now moved to the starting job in Rouse’s former three-technique berth.
“Sure, part of (Samuel’s lack of exposure) was James’ doing,” Mirabal said. “He was really disruptive on game day. Because of his back, we didn’t have him practice all of the time. But from a run-and-pass standpoint, I think Jarquez will be a lot more of a factor because of his size, and he’s just a bigger man than James was.
“I do think, yeah, that happens. You can get overlooked when you have a great player like a Rouse next to you. But beyond that, there was some kind of switch with Jarquez – with Coach Price’s help – that he flipped this spring. He was a different player, and he already was a heck of a player last season. But I just saw a difference-maker, not just another piece on a good defensive line.”
Holliday and his staff think so much of Samuel that the Herd coach intends to take the nose man to Dallas next month as the Herd defensive player at the C-USA Football Media Day session. Running back Devon Johnson will represent the Marshall offense.
Samuel goes into 2015 with 18 career starts – 14 of those last season when he played 461 snaps and made 30 tackles. He also had an interception and 27-yard return in Marshall’s win at FIU. This season, Heater said Samuel could be part of a six-man rotation at the two tackle spots, with Dillon, senior “Rico” Williams, sophomore Tomell One and redshirt freshmen Malik Thompson and Jason Smith.
“We have a lot of bodies, and I don’t think we ever played more than eight plays in a row, and it helps us a lot,” Samuel said. “Maybe you don’t play as much, but that’s a good thing because when you are out there, you can go 100 percent because you’re not tired.”
Samuel said that with Rouse’s exit, he and Dillon try to be the leaders in the defensive line room.
“Steve and me, basically we’re the guys who have played the most,” Samuel said. “We’re trying to get those younger guys going. It’s up to us now. I really looked up to James. We still text all of the time. Coach Heater and Coach Price want me to be a leader now, and that’s what I’m working on.”
Samuel also is taking a lead with one of the Herd’s new linebackers. Redshirt freshman Frankie Hernandez is Samuel’s cousin. But the 2015 season is about more than senior responsibility, Samuel said.
“I don’t think it was so much that people paid attention to James,” Samuel said. “Hey, it might be me. Maybe I didn’t make enough plays. I need to make more plays and that will correct the problem. So, that’s my goal this season.
“A lot, a whole lot changed for me this spring. James was gone, and somebody had to step up, so I went in with the attitude that I wasn’t going to let anybody block me. That’s my goal going into the season, to go hard, use my experience and my size and length.”
Samuel said the lack of preseason recognition for much of a Herd defense that lost six starters is a motivational factor for 2015.
“We lost some great players, but there’s no way we take a step back, not with Coach Heater. And the guys we still have around, no way … D.J. Hunter, (Evan) McKelvey at linebacker, Steve up front, safeties (AJ Leggett, Taj Letman, Tiquan Lang) back, Corey Tindal (at corner).
“And we’ve got some guys who haven’t played a lot, or are new, guys who can play. We’ll be fine. We’re not going to miss a beat. We might be better than last year.”
Samuel wants the Herd to have one more name to remember – his.