Aug. 26, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall football Coach Doc Holliday and his veteran defensive coordinator, Chuck Heater, want A.J. Leggett playing like George Jefferson this season.
That's not some former NFL player, but the long ago TV sitcom character.
Holliday and Heater want Leggett "movin' on up" from safety.
A year ago in his first college season, Leggett led the Thundering Herd in interceptions, with four ... but from his free safety spot, Leggett played too often like the cornerback he previously was.
So, Leggett spent plenty of time in the weight room in the spring and summer - often on the players' own personal desire, as Holliday has remarked - and now the 6-foot, 185-pounder from Miami will play more like a linebacker when necessary.
"Last season it was OK, just OK," Leggett said during Herd interviews Monday. "But there were a lot of things I did wrong, a lot of things I could have done better. Last season was OK for me, but this season Coach Heater tells me he wants me to be more physical, a more physical tackler.
"He wants me getting in the box and helping those linebackers in case a run pops out, then make a secure tackle. In camp, I was just trying to focus more of being bought into coach's game plan and being bought into the system. That, and focus more on physical tackling out there and being a team player."
Heater, who is also the Herd's secondary coach, wants Leggett's quickness to pay more dividends. It also didn't help Leggett that he had missed the 2012 season after suffering a torn right labrum and rotator cuff the second week of preseason camp. The four-star recruit would have played as a true freshman at corner, but took a redshirt.
In his first spring under Heater with the Herd, Leggett wore a red no-contact jersey. That didn't help the process in which Heater wanted Leggett to make the transition to safety, where Marshall needed talent.
"Moving from corner to safety was a big adjustment," said Leggett, who figures to make his second career start Saturday when Marshall opens the 2014 season at Miami (Ohio). "At corner, you're used to being isolated and sticking with wide receivers.
"At safety, you have to be more physical, come up and make sure tackles. It was a pretty hard adjustment for me, but with Coach Heater and Coach Doc, they've made it pretty easy for me ... I'd never played safety a day in my life, and I thought coming to college, it would be a pretty hard adjustment.
"But I found out I can make more plays at safety than I can at corner. At safety, you're in the middle of things more often. It's more of an impact position for me."
Then, just as Leggett was getting things figured out and got his first Herd start in an early November win over Southern Miss, he suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out three games. His late-season return included a pick in the Herd's Military Bowl victory over Maryland.
Then, Leggett said, it "was time to go to work" with Marshall strength and conditioning chief Scott Sinclair.
"I worked really hard in the weight room," the redshirt sophomore safety said. "I did things I'd never done and never thought I could do ... Coach Heater and Coach Doc challenged me. They said I needed to be more bought in and get stronger, be more physical on the field.
"I feel a lot more comfortable at safety now. I worked my butt off in the weight room in the spring and the summer to gain confidence and to gain strength to go out and make those plays, those tackles.
"And Coach Heater and Coach Doc made our game plans a lot easier for us to go out there and not have to think as much, so we're all a lot more comfortable this year."
Asked after the spring game about Leggett's transition to safety, Heater talked about how the Miamian's move from corner could make the Herd's defense better. Now - just like the rest of the Marshall defense - Heater looks for Leggett to make more strides.
"You always look at trying to take a good skill set at corner, which A.J. had, and you move it inside and then it becomes maybe a really good skill set inside at safety, with his cover skills," Heater said in the spring. "He has top-end speed, fast, not a 4.4 guy flat out, but he has 4.4 quickness, 4.4 cover skills.
"You take that inside, and you can really help yourself when you put a corner skill set inside, and you become a better secondary."
Leggett said the Marshall defense is all about Heater's next-step goals, too. Asked about the prolific Herd offense and the acclaim it gets compared to a defense that improved 92 spots in national ranking in scoring defense, and Leggett smiled and nodded.
"Defense, we do the dirty work," Leggett said with a grin. "Offense, those are the pretty boys. We let them get all the glory and we just do what we've got to do to help them win football games. What we need to do (on defense) this season is improve on winning games with our defense instead of allowing our offense to win games.
"We know our offense is always going to put up points with the powerful guys we've got like (quarterback Rakeem) Cato, (slot receiver Tommy) Shuler, those guys. We can't count on them to put up 40 points every night.
"We've got to come in and be able to win games on defense and shut teams down with defense, hold them to three points instead of seven, stuff like that. We've got to be able to win a game on defense. That's a focus this year."
Leggett said Heater's specific goals for the Herd defense pave the way, but it's an attitude that the unit wants to take into every game starting with Saturday's visit to Yager Stadium in Oxford, Ohio.
"Hold our opponents to 18 points or less, have less than 10 missed tackles," Leggett said of the defense's goals. "Third down, we've got to be more physical and make more plays ... just get off the field. Make all of our plays. Don't miss opportunities, don't miss interceptions, don't miss tackles.
"Impact plays, forced fumbles, picks ... We've got to come out and create chaos, create turnovers for the offense, get off the field and get our offense on the field so they can put up those points we know they'll put up."