BOGACZYK: Herd Defensive Line Coaches Looking for Starters
The Word on the Herd-August 5, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall football returns six defensive linemen who played significant minutes in a 10-4 season that was capped by a Military Bowl victory last December.
However, as 2014 preseason camp began Monday, the focus up front defensively is on what needs to be replaced, with line coaches J.C. Price and Sean Cronin reminding their charges that the Thundering Herd front four is absent 72 career starts from three players who exited after the 2013 season.
Cronin, who coaches ends, and tackles coach Price not only want a spirited camp; they are demanding it and expecting it.
“There’s no comparison between this year and last,” Cronin said. “We lost some great players (ends Alex Bazzie and Jeremiah Taylor and nose tackle Brandon Sparrow). We’re starting all over so we’ve got to figure it out. There’s no comparison to last year right now.
“This is a brand new year, and these guys have to get the mentality that those guys somehow found last year. They have to hold themselves to the standard that those guys did last year, and we’ll see how it goes here in camp. Those were real dudes we lost.”
In sixth-year tackle James Rouse – the 2013 Herd team MVP – Marshall has its defensive line anchor back. Also returning after significant playing time are ends Ra’Shawde Myers (11 starts after Taylor suffered a back injury), Gary Thompson (1) and Arnold Blackmon; and nose tackles Jarquez Samuel (4) and Steve Dillon (2).
Myers and Blackmon are seniors; Thompson a sophomore and Samuel and Dillon juniors.
New to the mix are junior tackle Ricardo “Rico” Williams, who sat out last season as a Miami (Fla.) transfer, and redshirt sophomore Joe Massaquoi and redshirt junior Armonze Daniel, who emerged in spring practice when Myers’ reps were limited by a knee problem.
Price said Williams will back up Rouse and as of now, there is no plan to move Williams outside. Asked whether the pecking order at nose was Dillon/Samuel or Samuel/Dillon, Price grinned and said, “Yes.”
His response offered a Cliff’s Notes version of how Cronin and Price approach this camp.
“There are no starters, other than Rouse,” Price said. “Rico is behind Rouse, and the plan is to play him inside to spell Rouse at 3-technique. Rouse is the only starter we’ve got right now. Other than that, every position is competition and whoever starts at Miami of Ohio (Aug. 30 opener) will be dictated by how well they play during camp.”
“A lot of guys left,” said the Herd ends coach, on his second stint on Coach Doc Holliday’s staff that sandwiched two seasons at Temple. “Ra’Shawde, he only started because JT (Taylor) got hurt. Then, he didn’t practice much in the spring and he’s going to be rusty and he’s got to have a great camp.
“He’s got to be one of those guys who does what those guys did last year and keep developing and reach his potential because he was only like a four-sack guy last season (4 1/2, with 7 QB hurries). All of them have a long way to go and we all have a lot of work to do. Joe (Massaquoi) certainly fits into the category of a guy that needs to play better, but to be honest, almost all of them fit into that category at this point.
“We have a bunch of potential, which is great. It’s great to work with potential, but like Coach Price says, that plus a quarter won’t even get you a cup of coffee anymore. So, we’ve got to have a great camp.”
Price and Cronin said what made Bazzie, Sparrow and Taylor special was their willingness to push themselves and become leaders on not just the unit, but the team.
“We had three seniors who were invited to NFL minicamp,” Cronin said of Bazzie (Browns), Sparrow (Bears) and Taylor (Ravens). We had three guys that went and put on an NFL jersey for some period of time. And now Alex Bazzie is starting in the CFL (BC Lions) and playing well.
“They continued to develop while they were here; they weren’t satisfied with where they were and they blossomed as seniors. They never had it fully figured out before their senior season. They never stopped developing while they were here.”
Price, pointing his third season on the Herd staff, said there is an urgency to fit the pieces into the puzzle on the defensive front.
“We do have a lot of guys who played a lot of football. Blackmon and Gary (Thompson) were backups last year, played less than half the snaps. Rico didn’t play at all. Every year, you’ve got to create an identity and that’s what we need from these guys during this camp.
“We’ve got to find an identity. Last year’s D-line is history, gone; these guys have to find a way, with the leadership of Rouse and Myers, to re-create an identity and we’ve got to get those guys ready to play.”
Even with the strong return by Rouse from nearly two missing seasons due to multiple injuries and surgeries and the play of the aforementioned seniors and Myers in relief, not all went well in the coaches’ eyes.
“Every year you set goals and we didn’t reach all of our goals,” Price said. “We didn’t have a single guy in double-digit sacks (Rouse’s six led the team, with 32). We didn’t lead (Conference USA) in rushing defense (fifth, 160.5 ypg). There was a lot of positive and some negative with those guys last year.
“By no means were we perfect. We were really good at times, but we were very average at times. What this group needs is to learn from last year and grow by the reps they had and take it to the next level and try to limit the bad snaps we had.”
The 6-foot-5, 253-pound Massaquoi made a statement in spring practice and begins camp as one player who could significantly enhance the Herd’s depth up front.
“Massaquoi was going to get a whole bunch of time no matter who was playing,” Price said when asked about Myers’ spring time on the sidelines giving Massaquoi increased reps. “Ra’Shawde being hurt really didn’t have an impact on Massaquoi’s reps.
“I really think Ra’Shawde could have gone in the spring. If it were a game week he probably could have pushed it a couple times, and we maybe could have gotten him in there somewhere near the end (of spring). But the guy had a lot of football on his legs and he was one guy who had a lot of reps during the season, and there was no need to get him seasoned.
“Joe’s going to take reps. There’s another guy who is unproven and he has to force himself to become mentally tougher and learn how to play.”
At his pre-camp press conference last week, Holliday mentioned 2014 recruit Tomell One as a potential contributor on the defensive line. One, a tackle, is a 6-3, 270-pounder from Palm Bay, Fla.
“I think he could play for us as a freshman,” Holliday said of One. “We kept him here all summer and he’s a tough guy who can run, so he’ll do fine.”
Also standing tall in the Herd’s first workout was another D-line signee – Ryan Bee of Ashland, Ohio. He looks every bit of his listed 6 feet 7 (and 245 pounds).
“You see a guy who has the right tools,” Price said when asked about One. “He’s young, just a freshman, so to say he’s going to come in and contribute is really premature at this point, but you do see his ability.
“Ryan Bee, too. Those are two good recruits and once they learn what to do, learn the techniques you need to play at the collegiate level, they’ll both be good players, I think.”
Cronin added that the so-called established Herd names still have some establishing to do.
“A lot of those ends can move around, side to side, we’re going to play the best four guys, no matter what they are,” Cronin said, using the outside positions as an example. “So, I think starting off, Blackmon is on the same side as Thompson, but if Arnold and Gary are the best two guys, they’re going to start at the two spots.
“If Ra’Shawde and Arnold are the best two, then they’ll start. Whoever it is, we’ll move it around to get our best players on the field. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out. Camp will decide.”