BOGACZYK: Cronin Figuring Out Where Two Ends Meet
The Word on the Herd-Aug. 19, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Pardon Sean Cronin these days if he is not quite sure which end is up. Cronin, in his third season as Marshall’s defensive ends coach, oversees quite a daily battle for who’s going to start at the two spots when the Thundering Herd begins the 2015 season on Sept. 6 against visiting Purdue.
And he’s loving it.
One thing that’s certain – the defensive end corps is younger, deeper and more talented than a year ago. There’s only one senior – Armonze Daniel, who will play against a home Hoosier State team in the opener -- among eight ends, too.
However, Marshall lost 2014 starters Ra’Shawde Myers and Arnold Blackmon, and who fills those shoes for the Boilermakers’ opening offensive snap is a coin flip with 2 1/2 weeks until the opener of Marshall’s 119th football season.
The first four – depending on the hour, it seems – are Daniel and redshirt junior Joe Massaquoi at end, and redshirt junior Gary Thompson and UCF sophomore transfer Blake Keller at Fox, which is MU’s edge pass rusher spot. Well … that’s unless Daniel is at Fox or Keller is trying his hand at end – which he will be in some situations soon, Cronin said.
“The talent level, no question, we’re great there,” Cronin said. “All the freshmen, there are no misses out here. They can all play. Because of that, they’d better all battle, or they’re not going to play. That’s the great thing about our room right now, there’s a lot of competition.
“Our guys are really practicing well because in our room, you’re only one bad day away from not playing. These guys are fighting their butts off to get onto the field and competition is always the greatest thing you could have as far as improvement of a position – and we have plenty of it.”
Thompson was a significant contributor in 2013 – he intercepted two passes in a divisional title-clinching win over East Carolina -- but missed much of last season with a posterior cruciate sprain – and then he reinjured the knee in offseason conditioning. Thompson also is one of the Herd’s strongest players and Coach Doc Holliday wants to see more from the 6-foot-1, 252-pound Californian.
“Where we are right now is Gary missed a few days, he just came back (Tuesday),” Cronin said. “It’s not the knee, just a boo-boo or two. He’s fine. Armonze started camp ahead of Joe, but right now, there are no starters. Armonze is having a tremendous year, great offseason, playing really well. Joe is really coming on, starting to make more plays.
“Both those guys are ones (on the depth chart) right now. That’s kind of how we play anyway, rotating guys, but somebody’s got to go out there the first play of the game. So, right now, I don’t know who that is. The best thing is, they’re both playing well.
“Armonze been playing both sides, end and Fox, so it could be Joe and Armonze starting. Blake Keller’s playing well. He’s got a few things here he needs to improve and he’s been working to do that and we’ve seen progress. He started camp as the one (with Thompson bouncing back). Gary has a lot of ability; everybody knows that. There’s a real competition there.”
So, what is Cronin seeking from the foursome?
“It’s not a competition for one end spot and or the other end spot. It’s all those guys competing for two spots, because the best two are going to start. All four are going to play, but the best two are going to start. If I need to move guys around to get what we deserve, we will.”
You can tell Cronin likes what’s behind Daniel, Massaquoi, Thompson and Keller, too. Redshirt freshman Ryan Bee stands tall in that group now – and not just because the Ohioan is 6-7 (263 pounds). The others are true freshmen Damien Dozier (6-4, 203), Ty Tyler (6-3, 245) and Milan Lanier (6-5, 225).
Bee sat out last season, while Dozier was an early entry recruit and went through spring practice. Tyler signed in February, while Lanier, from Cronin’s hometown of Cincinnati, was a late spring signee. “Those guys are critical, because we’re trying to find a fifth guy to play (and make the travel squad, too),” Cronin said. “To rotate the way we do, you really have to have five, because once somebody gets hurt, then you’re out of your rotation.
‘So, our fifth guy is very important, and Bee has a little bit of a head start because he’s been here longer. He’s gotten better and those other guys are still learning our proper techniques and footwork and stance and all that other stuff.
“But all of them are really talented guys, so the faster they pick it up, the faster they’re going to be able to compete for a spot on the bus. Bee’s coming along, had a really good scrimmage the other day; but there are still things he needs to work on, too.
“Those younger guys, they’re just learning all this stuff, so they’re a little overwhelmed right now, but they’re pretty talented guys. We’re happy with all of them from an ability standpoint. We’ve just got to get ‘em going from a playmaking standpoint.”
Cronin said Bee fits “mostly at end” as does Lanier, with Dozier and Tyler at Fox.
“I’m not moving the young guys around,” the Herd assistant coach said. “Some of them could play both sides, but those guys, I don’t mess with them so they can learn, know what they’re doing at one position before I teach them the other one.
“As for the older guys, Thompson probably could do either side, because he’s 250 pounds now. And Blake, we’ve already had discussions with him … and although he hasn’t done it yet in camp he’s going to play both sides, too. Joe is going to stay at end, Bee at end. Armonze can play both sides.
“This could go right up to who has the best week of prep before we play Purdue. But somebody has to separate themselves; somebody’s got to become a big-time player. Right now, they’re all pretty solid guys going about their business, and I’m waiting for one of them to come unblockable, and then he’ll be a starter.”