July 6, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – In 28 days, Marshall’s football players will report for the start of the August 2014 preseason camp.
Alex Mirabal, the Herd’s offensive line coach, said that Aug. 3 report date will arrive sooner than you think. But he’s more than OK with that … just as he is with the group he will coach in his second Marshall season leading the big ‘uns.
The Phil Steele College Football Preview magazine, ranking units in Conference USA, placed Marshall first at quarterback, receiver, running back, defensive line, linebacker and secondary – but slotted Mirabal’s offensive line at No. 2, behind North Texas. The Mean Green returns four starters up front.
“I wouldn’t trade our guys for anybody,” Mirabal said last week in his Shewey Building office. “I feel we have a combination of not only being athletic, but also being able to become physical and become nastier. The changes we made at the guard spots, with Blake Brooks and Michael Selby in there now, that makes us more physical as a group.
“We’ll be quicker, with more speed, too, across the board. We lost our most athletic lineman in Garrett Scott, but across the board, as a group, this group is more athletic.”
Scott was a sixth-round NFL Draft pick by the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Scott is on injured reserve with the NFL club, sitting out with a heart ailment that has curbed the tackle’s participation. He and guard Alex Schooler were the full-time starters lost from Mirabal’s group.
Back as starters are star center Chris Jasperse
, a three-year starter, and tackles Clint Van Horn
and Sebastian Johansson
, who started all 14 games at left guard last season.
In Scott, Schooler, backup tackle Gage Niemeyer and Jordan Jeffries, who missed most of his final season due to injury, the Herd lost 2,492 game snaps among the five line spots and 85 career starts. Players with 3,003 snaps in 2013 return, with 61 career starts.
Also out of the mix is Cam Dees, the backup center and guard who sat out last season but has since endured career-ending knee problems.
“As I said going into spring practice, I think we have the potential to be a better line than last year’s,” Mirabal said. “After spring, I still do -- more than ever -- feel that. I feel that us being together, me with them and them with me for another year, they are more accustomed not only to my expectations and my demands, but also techniques, footwork, philosophy, mentality.
“At the same time, they are a nastier group. It is what it is. It’s just their DNA. I see it on film and I think we will see it on Saturdays. After doing all of the (tape) cut-ups following the (2013) season, I felt despite the success we had running the football, there were a lot of yards we left out there because of our lack of physicality inside.
“The A gap, what we do offensively – our bread and butter is inside zone, everybody knows that. In order for us to do what we want to do, run that inside zone, we’ve got to be able to control the A gap and physically remove people from the A gap. And that’s something we feel Brooks and Selby will allow us to do.”
Mirabal said that heading into the start of August camp, the offensive line three-deep looks like this:
LT – Sebastian “Swede” Johansson, AJ Addison, Fred Binot
LG – Blake Brooks, Tom Collins, Will Mendoza
C – Chris Jasperse, Cody Collins, Nate Devers
RG – Michael Selby, Trevor Mendelson or Chris Huhn, Jordan Dowrey
RT – Clint Van Horn, Sandley Jean-Felix, Eric Ansley
That group includes five true freshmen and three redshirt freshmen, but does not include Tyler Combs, a redshirt freshman from nearby Louisa, Ky.
“Tyler’s still injured.” Mirabal said of the guard who missed spring practice after right ankle surgery. “He had two ankle injuries in high school, and his ankle basically had to be rebuilt. In layman’s terms, it kind of disintegrated, so they had to go in … He is running now, and he’ll be back working out in July.”
Mirabal is high on his group, saying the Herd “No. 2s are better than some of the starting offensive lines in Conference USA. I don’t have any doubt about that.”
He also said the NCAA rules that allow coaches to work with players one hour per week during the summer has paid dividends among the youngsters, especially second-team tackles Addison and Jean-Felix.
Entering spring practice, Mirabal said redshirt junior guard Tom Collins of Williamstown was his No. 6 lineman because of his versatility and experience in the program. That situation has changed, in some fashion, the Herd line coach said.
“Our goal, my goal, is always when somebody goes down, we want to still get our best five guys on the field and who are available,” Mirabal said. “That will remain the same, and I always tell them that. You might be the second left guard, but you’re competing with the whole room, because if somebody goes down, my job as a coach is to put the next best guy in.
“So, the one thing about Tom Collins I know is, can play right guard, play right tackle, play left guard, play left tackle. The only thing he can’t play is center. And he is No. 6, now, but what’s happening is a good issue to have.
“It’s starting to become less likely in my mind that if something were to happen to Swede at left tackle, it’s starting to become more and I’m more leaning toward having AJ go in first, and it’s close to that happening as well at right tackle with Sandley.
“To me, that’s a tremendous positive. Those two guys have elevated themselves where we don’t have to move Tom, to patch. That’s got to be beneficial to everybody. It’s a tribute to those two kids; they have made superior strides.”
Mirabal said when camp opens, the No. 2 right guard behind Selby is a strong competition between Mendelson and Huhn, although a third player could join that battle in true freshman Jordan Dowrey.
Mirabal is very high on Dowrey, of Winchester, Va., and fellow February signee Nate Devers of Massillon, Ohio. Devers is No. 3 at center behind Jasperse and redshirt freshman Cody Collins.
“I think Devers has a chance in August to compete with Collins for the backup job,” Mirabal said. “He’s strong, did 345 (pounds) four times in the bench press. He came in with lots of strength and he comes from a program like Massillon, so he’s obviously been extremely well coached.
“And he’s a competitor. He had shoulder surgery at end of his senior football season and yet was able to come back and fully participate in track and field, throwing the shotput and discus. His work ethic, he’s tough as heck. I don’t know what ‘it’ is, but he’s got ‘it’ in terms of desire and maturity. He’s a guy who I know will give himself an opportunity to compete starting in August.
“Dowrey was 99-0 in wrestling, a great athlete. He’s strong, and he went right from football to wrestling to track and field and did a great job. Once they sign, we’re allowed to send them a workout program. You can see in the two of them that they took Coach (Scott) Sinclair’s workout program and did it almost to a T.
“So they came in here in June and they weren’t in complete shock when they got under Coach Sinclair in strength and conditioning, and so their acclimation was a lot smoother than your typical freshman. I believe Dowrey will give himself an opportunity to compete at right guard. He’s physically stronger than Mendelson and Huhn.
“Devers and Dowrey, those are the two (summer arrivals) I feel have the opportunity make that ‘travel 10’ that we take (to road games from the offensive line). Now, it’s up to the older guys to prevent that from happening.
“We’ll have some great competition once camp begins.”