Aug. 7, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – There’s a lot different about the way Marshall Football is playing without the ball this preseason. After last season’s defensive performance, Coach Doc Holliday has said there unquestionably needed to be a major overhaul.
There are new coaches, plenty of new faces in uniform, an increased dose of athleticism. But there is one thing about the way the Thundering Herd has been defending that won’t change … and doesn’t need alterations.
That would be on special teams, in the kick blocking department.
Last season, the Herd had seven blocked kicks, tied for third in major college football with Texas, and just one behind Rutgers and UCLA. In the last two seasons, Marshall’s 14 kick blocks rank second to Rutgers’ 17. Florida, Fresno State and Buffalo followed the Herd with 12.
Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor – who plays inside on placement kick blocks -- had two blocks last season, a PAT attempt at Purdue and field goal try by Memphis. The senior from South Point, Ohio, said he sees two reasons for the Herd’s successful swatting.
“A lot of it is effort, but there’s an emphasis on it here, too,” Taylor said.
In Holliday’s three seasons on the MU sidelines, his teams have 17 blocked kicks – seven punts, six PATs (including three by Vinny Curry in 2011) and four field goals.
That’s even more crucial than the Herd’s successful conversion of 115 PAT tries in a row.
“I think our PAT and field goal blocks have blocked some kicks and that’s part of it,” said first-year Herd linebackers coach Adam Fuller, who also is in charge of the defensive special teams (kick blocking and coverage). “I think it all starts with really good players who have a really good knack. That’s No. 1.
“No. 2, Coach Holliday emphasizes it, and that’s part of the way he wants to play special teams. He wants to be ultra-aggressive and part of the way you be ultra-aggressive is you put a ton of pressure on the kicking units, and you do that by blocking kicks.”
Fuller said this after Tuesday afternoon’s split squad workout, in which Marshall did anything but brush off or backhand this part of special teams. It started practice with kick blocking techniques and repetitions.
“We do (punt block) a minimum of once a week we’re going to work on that, and PAT/field goal, we work on that every day. We do it a lot.
“The more pressure you put on punters and kickers, the more pressure they feel,” Fuller said. “They try to get the ball off, they hurry with their mechanics and you get shanked kicks and it sets up your return game.
“So, as you can see, the first thing we do as a return unit is we work on blocking kicks … 20 minutes spent today just on the technique of blocking kicks. Each kid probably got four or five blocked kicks (reps) today, among the guys we thought could do it.”
Among current Herd players who have blocked kicks are Taylor, running back Essray Taliaferro, linebacker Derek Mitchell and cornerback Darryl Roberts (punts) and linebacker Deon Meadows (PAT). Fuller said that when you’re trying to block punts, you’re looking mostly at defensive backs as those most capable.
“We look at a lot of DBs,” Fuller said. “Darryl Roberts has a really good knack for it; Taliaferro has a really good knack for it, Derek Mitchell blocked one at Memphis two years ago. Those three for sure.
“Everybody else, you kind of drill it, drill it, drill it. You watch them, they look natural, they do a great knee bend and they get involved. All the DBs can do it … a Taj Letman, Corie Wilson, Monterius Lovett, all those guys have the knack.”
Todd Hartley, the Herd’s special teams coordinator, said Holliday and Co. would like to block more punts in 2013, getting back toward the four the Herd had in 2011, versus two last season.
“On punts, if you out-execute somebody … that punter is going to punt the ball (after his approach, off his foot) at 10 yards, 9 1/2,” Fuller said. “You’ve got to get from there to him in about 1.9 seconds and get your hand on the ball. There’s a little bit of a trick to that.
“No. 1, they’ve probably got to cut you free. So, they’ve got to screw up protection in some way, and then you’ve got to be fast enough to go 10 yards in 1.9 and get your hand out to block it.
“As for a field goal or PAT, you get greater push, low kick, hand high, you’re on it.”
That explains part of Taylor’s success last season, as well as that of Curry in 2011 and Johnny Jones in 2010, when he blocked field goals in the first two games, at Ohio State and against West Virginia.
“I think what (tackles) Coach (J.C.) Price has JT doing is he’s an inside guy and he’s got the real combination; he’s a really good player, great power and great length and good timing,” Fuller said.
“So, he’s getting great knock-back. On PAT/field goal, a lot of it comes from the interior, where you’re blocked and you powered, and you maybe got a low kick.”
Taylor said it’s a lot of several things, including coaching and watching tape of opponents and their schemes. But nothing beat plain ‘ol effort.
“It’s pretty much desire and want-to,” said the veteran Herd end, who is on the preseason watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end in the nation). You go into a mentality where you say there are either going to be points scored on this play, or there’s not.
“And that mentality kicks in, and you figure this could be the deciding factor in the game, 1, 2 or 3 points … pretty much that’s desire and want-to.
“It’s a little both (push and jumping). They’re all have a scheme too, they’ll come down and it’s all about figuring it out and trying to free one of our guys up. Sometimes you come free, sometimes you have to push your way back there.
“I got one by getting skinny (Memphis) and going through there (a hole), and the other one (Purdue) I got by pushing the guy back and getting my hands up.”
Taylor said there are no secrets, just smarts and sweat involved.
“We work on it a lot – special teams is very important on this squad,” he said. “We take it as seriously as offense and defense, and we go into it with the same mentality.
“It’s pretty much about the coaches watch the film, and they relay to us what (the opponents) do. They have the scout set up. It’s mostly desire and want-to. You line up in front of a guy and it’s mano-y-mano.
“There are either going to be points scored, or not.”
Here’s a look at Marshall kick blocks in three seasons under Coach Doc Holliday:
Johnny Jones 2 – Ohio State (FG); West Virginia (FG)
Essray Taliaferro – Tulane (punt)
Vinny Curry 3 – Virginia Tech (PAT); Louisville (PAT); Memphis (PAT)
Jermain Kelson – Southern Miss (punt)
Derek Mitchell – Memphis (punt)
Darryl Roberts – UAB (punt)
Zach Dunston – FIU, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (punt)
Marques Aiken 2 – UCF (PAT); UAB (FG)
Jeremiah Taylor 2 – Purdue (PAT); Memphis (FG)
C.J. Crawford – West Virginia (punt)
Jermain Kelson – Purdue (punt)
Deon Meadows – UCF (PAT)