Aug. 16, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Much has been spoken and written this month about the impressive speed on display in Marshall’s football preseason camp.
Well, for four of the 100-or-so Thundering Herd players on the Edwards Stadium turf daily, this is a good time to put their best foot forward in another fashion.
The Herd punting and kicking games are two of the bigger questions about Coach Doc Holliday’s third MU team. There are jobs to be won … and the clinchers could come in the next few days, particularly with Marshall’s second preseason scrimmage set Saturday morning at 10:45.
The punting duel is between true freshman Tyler Williams and redshirt frosh Austin Dumas, of Bradenton, Fla. Incumbent place-kicker Justin Haig – a redshirt sophomore from Delray Beach, Fla. – is back, but he’s getting a strong challenge from redshirt freshman Trent Martin of Virginia Beach, Va.
These duels are as up in the air as a Kase Whitehead punt, if you catch my drift.
Williams, from Fort Wayne, Ind., has a leg up in punting … as of Wednesday afternoon anyway.
“I think things started out in a dead heat, but the last 2-3 days I’ve seen Tyler really start to settle in on the consistency level,” said Chris Rippon, the defensive coordinator who also is in charge of Herd kickers. “The net punt yards are not that much different between the two, but what we’re getting from Tyler is more consistency in hang time, in distance, more consistency in the get-away. The last three days, he’s gone ahead. We’re still two weeks out (from the Sept. 1 season opener at West Virginia), but right now, Tyler is there.”
The place-kicking matchup is even more tightly contested, and it’s not just a matter of who attempts field goals and extra points. Rippon said kickoff duties are on the line – Haig handled KOs last season – and there hasn’t been kickoff work to date because the Herd staff doesn’t want to wear out anyone’s leg.
“Justin is the experienced guy coming back, and Trent came back in (for August workouts) in great shape,” Rippon said of the place-kickers. “Trent, in the scrimmage last Saturday, wins the job … for the day … for the day.
“Came back the next day (Monday), he’s got it. Tuesday, Justin wins it and as they say, there’s nothing like competition. Justin on Tuesday and (Wednesday) really hit the ball well. We’ll see how Trent answers that.
“Kickoffs? It’s to be determined. We didn’t want them kicking off early and really spend their legs. The amount of reps a kid gets on kickoffs, you just want to limit because of the wear and tear.”
Rippon said Martin “was a little ahead” of Haig based on spring-practice performance, but …
“We’ll see,” Rippon said. “It’s like the Olympics, where you don’t get to track and field until the second week in my mind. That’s what I’m thinking, and they’re working on their own, but I’m looking to see how things come out later this week, early next week.”
The veteran Herd coordinator called this Saturday’s scrimmage “very critical, more so for the punters than the kickers.”
“The kickers, with an experienced guy, you’re not so uptight about that,” Rippon said. “On PAT and field goal, the hardest thing is (place-kickers) have to concentrate on just themselves.
“Younger kids tend to think the whole operation is their job, and they press, somebody comes off the edge, and they peek, or whatever. That’s what gives Justin the advantage – he’s been there -- but it’s something you can work on.
“The punter needs the consistency of the snapper (true freshman Matt Cincotta, who has been impressive) to make every snap the same snap. It’s about what the protecting is in front of him, the mistakes that might happen in practice, where the different rushes come from.
“Todd (Hartley, safeties coach) does a great job with punt protection, but (the punter) has got to have more time. And being so inexperienced there, we’ve got to put him in as many difficult situations as we can so he learns.”
Williams or Dumas? Haig or Martin?
Rippon and the rest of the Herd staff don’t have much more time to kick this decision around.
“It’s Doc’s decision,” Rippon said, “but any input from me would be … let’s settle this thing as soon as we can, or absolutely by the middle of next week.”