Aug. 12, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The defense rolled – player-by-player, 100 yards, the length of the Edwards Stadium field, literally – after Marshall’s first controlled scrimmage of the football preseason on Saturday.
One of the reasons for what one Herd defender joked “isn’t punishment, but torture” was difficulty with fundamentals that coordinator and linebackers coach Chris Rippon said are basic:
“Tackling, wrapping up people, and getting off blocks.”
One player who didn’t have much trouble with that was Cortez Carter, an undersized sophomore backup middle linebacker – 5 feet 10, 229 pounds – who led all Herd defenders on the day with 10 tackles.
Although the scrimmage designs on both side of the ball were fairly vanilla, Rippon said it was “pure competition” that was crucial.
And one thing that was very apparent from the first few series was that defensively the difference between the Herd’s ones and twos on this day wasn’t nearly as wide as it was a year ago or even in spring practice.
“For all the young guys, for all of the guys like me on the twos, the threes, this is an opportunity to go out and show the coaches what you can do,” said Carter, who played mostly on special teams as a true freshman in 2011. “We all feel like the ones and twos are closer now.
“We push the ones and the ones push us, then it’s up to the coaches to decide who’s going to play … middle linebacker, wherever they think I can help the team, I’ll play.”
Carter, of Bealton, Va., played a No. 2 LB row with Evan McKelvey and true freshman Devon Johnson. They backed up starting “Mike” linebacker Jermaine Holmes, flanked by senior Devin Arrington and Raheem Waiters.
Boston College transfer and free safety Dominick LeGrande had eight stops, while Holmes, Arrington and rush end/LB Alex Bazzie had seven apiece.
Holmes, the MLB incumbent at 245 pounds, brings something different to the Mike spot than does Carter, but Carter uses his skills to great advantage.
“When you’re smaller, you have to use your speed and make quicker reads,” Carter said. “If you know the defense, you’re already a step ahead of the offense. Coach Rip gives us plenty of good reads to go off, so if you get those down, you know what plays they can run … if it’s an inside zone, outside zone or play-action pass.
“I weighed in today at 229. I’ve played all three linebacker spots, but playing in the middle with the big guys, it’s big-time leverage for me. My height kind of helps, too, because those offensive linemen have to bend way down to block me. That helps a lot, and then I just keep trying to use the tools Coach Rip teaches to fight off blocks.”
Rippon and Carter said the idea was to keep it simple in this scrimmage debut so players could learn to play fast from scrimmage in simulated game conditions. Now, Rippon will take the tape, see who was where doing what, and began to install game packages.
He said the Herd’s youth makes sorting out personnel a bit more difficult, not to mention the introduction of BC transfers LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha at safety and new Penn State transfer Derrick Thomas at corner (he played with the second unit, but in limited pads, and didn’t hit).
That second defensive unit that included Carter was filled by four redshirt juniors, two sophomores, three redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen (Johnson and corner A.J. Leggett).
Rippon said the Herd could use more Carters, too.
“Cortez is one of the more conscientious kids we have from a football standpoint, every standpoint,” the veteran of three decades in coaching said. “He just works at the game so hard and wants to do things so right that he can’t do them right.
“If I tell Cortez, there’s a guy that’s down, go play Sam (strongside LB), he plays Sam. Same way, he’ll go play Will (weakside LB). He can play any of the positions, and not only play them, but play them pretty well. We played him as a true freshman last season, but when you talk about what you want in the character of a football team, and toughness and loving to play, that’s Cortez Carter.”
Carter also is one of only two Herd players to get an A-plus grade for his strength and conditioning work.
Rippon said Carter and other defenders will learn from the scrimmage in more ways than one.
“We were never as bland as we were today,” Rippon said. “This was a bare skeleton of our package. We just wanted kids to run around. We’ll make adjustments, offense same way.
“We wanted to see who was going to be in situations we could build on, who was going to win a job on the depth chart that’s right now in sand, who’s going to elevate themselves, who’s not. I thought we did that pretty well. I think we’re putting the pieces together from different people, including the two BC kids and the Penn State kid.
“The other day you and I talked about Raheem Waiters. Raheem needed this to learn that in some of those defenses, you can’t let them outside. And we can do it in practice and it doesn’t mean as much, but when everybody’s competing, like you are in a scrimmage, it’s more of a learning process.”
Rippon said one goal in the three weeks until the Herd’s Sept. 1 noon opener at West Virginia is to try and makes those top two lines of the depth chart just one at more positions. And those top two lines really are closer.
“Exactly,” he said. “What we’re hoping to play, 1-2-3. We want to have a depth chart where there are two names on the ones. With that, now you can go in at any particular time.
“Right now we have one position like that, the rush linebacker with Alex Bazzie and Ra’Shawde Myers. They’re on that one line together. Our goal is to get those other twos up into the ones. Now, you’re rolling. Now, you can play with the kind of speed that you want to play.
“I thought it was a very productive day for us, but we have to be a better tackling team. We know that. Fundamental is where we have to be great. We can run and we’re strong and we have the schemes where we can attack people, but it’s about fundamentals. Tackle and get off blocks.”