Aug 15, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Physically, Marshall’s offensive linemen have to look down at Alex Mirabal. Professionally, those big ‘uns need to look up to their 5-foot-5 first-year assistant coach.
No matter where those linemen line up, they do know where they stand.
“The good thing is that I talk to all these kids about it because it’s important in the relationship,” Mirabal said after one of Wednesday’s practices. “I talk to them about where they stand. Come to me any time, I’ll talk to you.
“I tell them I may not tell you what you want to hear, but I’m going tell you the truth about where you stand, where you are in the pecking order. And if a parent asks me, I tell them the film never lies. They know, exactly, whether or not they should be playing, so that has kind of sorted itself out.”
So, halfway through 18 days of August preseason camp, where do they stand in a suddenly deep unit that is expected to be a strength for the 2013 Herd?
Mirabal said the first unit – right tackle to left tackle – has Garrett Scott, Alex Schooler, Chris Jasperse, Sebastian “Swede” Johansson and Gage Niemeyer.
The twos (same order) are Clint Van Horn, Grady Kerr, Cam Dees (center), Blake Brooks and Jordan Jeffries. The threes are Sandley Jean-Felix, Cody Collins, Michael Selby (center), Tyler Combs and Trevor Mendelson.
That’s four freshmen “hopefully” to redshirt, Mirabal said -- and Mendelson (redshirt junior).
One name not mentioned above is guard Josh Lovell, who suffered a leg injury injured in the mano-y-mano “Herd” drill last Friday. Lovell has had X-rays and an MRI and those were negative. Mirabal said the redshirt junior is expected back by Monday.
Mirabal said in the spring and prior to camp that he wanted to take a five-man unit “and roll with it.”
It’s his “Five Men; One Mind” theory. Has that changed in camp as an Aug. 31 opener against Miami (Ohio) at Edwards Stadium approaches?
“Only if they’re equal in my mind,” Mirabal said. “Right now, if we were to play a game, six guys are equal, five starters and Josh Lovell. Lovell had beaten out Johansson when (Lovell) got dinged and ironically, Swede has come back and had three great days.
“It’s the competition, a tremendous respect between the two of them, and their competition has driven them to up their games. That only makes us better.”
Dees, Jeffries and Kerr were out or limited by injuries or post-surgical rehab in spring ball, so Mirabal is getting his first good look at them. Asked which players have impressed him most, Mirabal didn’t hesitate.
Van Horn, of Beckley, was 305 pounds a year ago in camp. He’s down to 294 (at 6 feet 5) now.
“Clint’s been phenomenal; the weight loss and strength gain has really benefited him from a movement standpoint,” Mirabal said. “Grady Kerr has done a great job this camp.
“Van Horn, knock on wood if something happens to Garrett Scott, I know we can win with Clint now at starting right tackle. Grady Kerr has opened my eyes, too. I didn’t get to work with him in spring, because he was hurt.
“Those two guys, and Blake Brooks has done really good job. He’s a real strong kid, but now he’s done really good job mentally, too. In the spring (after he moved from the defensive front to offensive guard), if we had 10 snaps, he’d probably be 7-for-10 going the right way. Right now he’s 10-for-10.
“I’d say those three guys have really opened my eyes and the one thing you’ve seen – and you were here in the spring – is our second group is pretty good now. That’s completely different from a few months ago.
“In spring, I felt sorry for the running backs because we were young, and we had guys going different directions. A lot of those guys who were second group in the spring are now third or fourth group, so Jeffries, Dees, Kerr, after not being here in spring, they’ve really, really helped. You can win with those guys, no doubt in my mind. From a depth standpoint, we’ve really strengthened.”
Mirabal said he’s happy with the progress within a couple of significant camp developments with his group, too.
“There’s some different footwork, technique-wise, that we picked up in the summer and started implementing,” the Herd offensive line coach said. “I can’t work with them in summer, and I picked up on this late in summer right before came back, after watching a guy from Penn State do it.
“It’s what we do on the backside of our zone game, and it’s really helping our guys. I really like it, because we can’t cut our own players, so now we’re doing something (similar to a stutter slide step) that allows us to get there sooner.
“Another place we’re doing a really good job … When I watched all of the (video) cut-ups from spring, I was disappointed in how we blocked the linebackers. Now we’re doing a really good job in camp in getting to the linebacker level and blocking them.
“That’s why the last few practices, you’ve seen more long runs. A lot of the long runs are a result of now we’re getting bodies on the ‘backers, that second level, so now that ball’s spitting out. I pounded them on that, about linebackers, so I tally every day, linebacker hits, linebacker misses, how many. So that’s been a big point of emphasis here.”
Mirabal said deeper on the depth chart than Marshall wants to significantly dig this season, he hasn’t been surprised at the rookies’ performances – save perhaps one.
“The new guys are overwhelmed, as you’d expect, but not Michael Selby,” Mirabal said. “He’s from a great background down in (Washington County) Georgia, and obviously he’s been coached very well. He’s just a natural, plays with a low center of gravity, big and strong. He’s been like a duck to water. Quite frankly – hopefully -- we stay healthy, we won’t have to use him. But if we have to, he’ll be ready to go because he’s very mature.
“The other guys lack strength and stuff, but you watch them on film and every day, Sandley Jean-Felix gets better. One thing about Sandley; he’s such a good athlete and guys who are good athletes are going to get better faster.
“They’ve been overwhelmed physically and they’ve been overwhelmed mentally. Offensive line is a tough place for a new guy to walk in and play. They’ve never been through anything like this, all the long hours. In high school, you practice and go home. Here, they practice and after that they watch film. Then go to lunch, come back, go to meetings, practice again.”
But there’s one way in which Mirabal’s 20 linemen are very similar.
They all know where they stand.