Aug. 7, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - The anchor's away, but the Marshall defensive line can still play.
So says Marques Aiken, the redshirt junior and incumbent starter at defensive tackle. The graduation of Vinny Curry, the Philadelphia Eagles' second-round draft pick, leaves a hole at one end.
How gaping? Only time will tell.
"Did we lose something? Yes, I'll be honest on that," Aiken said after the Herd's afternoon split-squad practice of the opening Monday. "Are we going to miss Vinny? Yes. He's the best I've ever been around, and that's why he's where he is.
"But I don't think our defense is necessarily underrated. I think people will see we can be a great defense as a whole. We've got more depth than we had. We've got more speed, more talent than we've had. And we just finished the best offseason we've had since I've been here."
The 6-foot-5, 277-pound Aiken, with 15 career starts, said Marshall's defense can be - and needs to be - more consistent and steady this season ... perhaps because without that dash of Curry, it won't be able to deliver the spectacular stuffing as often.
Last season (7-6), the Herd allowed 405 yards and 28 points per game, both numbers ranking in the 70s among 120 FBS teams.
"It's going to be a struggle to replace his role, so we have to work hard as a group to complement one another," said Aiken, who had 39 tackles last season, including 5.5 for losses. "Vinny had the all-around big game. We all now bring different talents to the table. There was no `outside' when Vinny was out there, but (returning starting end) Jeremiah Taylor, he's hard-working, great motor.
"I expect that he and I will play big roles because we've been out there a lot, and I promise you we're going to use every asset we have. Every day, we come to work. We have a bright future, and Jeremiah and I have another year, next year, to play together.
"I think if we can keep it going the way we have, just keep improving, we can have a great D-line and make some noise in Conference USA this season, too. We need to do that."
Aiken played the side opposite Curry in the Herd's 4-3. When Marshall went to its nickel package, Aiken lined up next to the 2011 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, who is now in the Eagles' camp at Bethlehem, Pa.
Who gets Curry's old spot? Aiken said maybe redshirt sophomore Ra'Shawde Myers (6-4, 234) from Cocoa, Fla.
"Myers is a playmaker," Aiken said. "He's got a chance to be a great player here from that kind of rush linebacker position. If anything, I'd say he's close to some of the attributes Vinny brought to the table. He's not quite Vinny, but he can be a helluva player."
Asked about what's different from his first three years on campus as Marshall begins its 114th season of football, Aiken smiled and responded with two words:
"Speed," he said. "Wow!
"At linebacker, we're 4.5 (in the 40-yard dash) across the board. We're 4.9 or 5-flat across the D-line. At safety, we're 4.3s across ... We have a tremendous amount of speed. It's scary thinking about some of the speed and power, combined, those guys possess on the two back lines behind us up front."
While much has been made of the fact that Marshall's eight seniors rank the Herd second (to Indiana's seven) in fewest seniors on an FBS roster, Aiken - one of 13 fourth-year redshirt juniors - said much of the MU youth has gotten uncommon experience early, by necessity.
"How we finished last year (three straight wins, including a bowl victory) is a great push into this season," the Herd defensive tackle said. "We got great confidence because we were in a lot of battles, a lot of close games decided in the last minutes (six of seven wins clinched in the fourth quarter).
"We fought as a team. We really found out who were. I think we found out what we had, what we all brought to the table and what we stood for. That helps us now.
"Doc Holliday is a great coach; he really pushes us. He knows how to get the best out of us. Joe Miday, our strength coach, pushes us ... really great offseason. I feel like this is our year to be prosperous."