Prepping for the spring (?) game

April 25, 2015 by Derek Redd

So they’re calling this a spring game … if your idea of “spring” is 48 degrees and a steady rain.

I don’t know how long the Herd is going to play in this weather. I doubt it will be long. I can’t say I blame them. But for however long Marshall does play today, here are some folks you want to keep an eye on …

– Michael Birdsong, QB — He’s been running with the first team in every other scrimmage, so today shouldn’t be any different. He can make all the throws and made some pretty ones in practice this spring. Hopefully the weather will let fans see a couple of those.

– Steward Butler and Tony Pittman, RBs — They’ve just been fun to watch run the last month. They run with power and they run angry. I don’t think Devon Johnson’s starting job is in peril,  but if a running back’s name hasn’t been mentioned in this paragraph, they’d better come into the fall playing the best they ever have. It’ll be tough to jump any of those three in the depth chart.

– Shawn Petty and Raheim Huskey, LBs — Both have really worked their way into the rotation this spring. Evan McKelvey’s return from injury this fall probably will shuffle the lineup at linebacker, but those two have earned some notoriety.

Stick around the blog when the game kicks off, as we’ll do some live coverage below. Otherwise, stay dry. I know that won’t be easy.

Live Blog Marshall football spring game
 

Herd hits the home stretch for spring

April 23, 2015 by Derek Redd

There really wasn’t much to Thursday’s practice, the final one before Marshall plays its spring game Saturday at 2 p.m. The players were in jerseys and shorts, as NCAA regulations mandate the team needed one more no-pads practice. The only real mysteries left were the makeup of the green and white rosters and any backup plans in case the weather is as bad as predicted on Saturday.

The rosters can be found here. If you notice, the green team has most of Marshall’s top offensive players, and the white team has most of its top defensive players. So when Michael Birdsong, Hyleck Foster and Davonte Allen take the field, they’ll be lining up against Keith Baxter, A.J. Leggett, Raheim Huskey and others.

As for weather contingencies, Holliday wasn’t quite sure. The indoor facility, the team’s usual refuge from the rain, will be occupied by both an equipment sale and fan fest. So Holliday figured the Herd will go as long as they can in Joan C. Edwards Stadium and hope the weather cooperates long enough.

Check charlestondailymail.com later tonight or Friday’s print edition for one final story before the spring game, taking a look at how coaches and players approach the event. Otherwise, I’ll see you folks Saturday. Stay dry.

 

T-minus two practices and counting

April 21, 2015 by Derek Redd

Marshall’s football team held on Tuesday its last full practice before Saturday’s Green and White spring game. Thursday’s practice will be in shorts — the NCAA mandates one of a team’s three practices in shorts to come late in the spring — and Saturday at 2 p.m. concludes the spring.

Doc Holliday said Tuesday this spring game won’t be quite like last year’s. It probably will be set up more like the scrimmages seen two Saturdays ago at the Greenbrier and last Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Those scrimmages were first team vs. first team for a set number of plays, second team vs. second team for a set number, and so on. (If you’re on Twitter, you’ll notice that Marshall coaches haven’t announced players for each side outside of quarterbacks, safeties and corners.)

That’s probably a good idea. If there aren’t enough numbers at some positions, there’s no need to force a guy to play the whole time. Also, it keeps players from participating in groupings they won’t find themselves in during the regular season. The spring game might be an event for the fans, but it’s still a developmental period for the players.

Among the highlights of Tuesday’s practice were a really nice scramble and deep touchdown throw to Hyleck Foster from Michael Birdsong. Tony Pittman had some powerful, long runs, too.

Speaking of the running game, check out charlestondailymail.com later tonight or Wednesday’s print edition for my latest column. It seems to me that the running lanes are a little bigger this spring. Am I just seeing things? Read later and find out.

Saturday Scrimmagin’

April 18, 2015 by Derek Redd

Did Marshall name a starting QB after Saturday’s scrimmage? Nope. Doc Holliday did, however, say the Herd is getting a lot closer to naming one. Who has the inside track? The stats are below, and here was the order of appearance: Michael Birdsong took the field first, followed by Gunnar Holcombe, then Chase Litton. Cole Garvin did not take a snap, the second scrimmage where that was the case.

I asked Doc whether Garvin would see action going forward. Here was his response:

We’ll make that decision. It’s hard to get four ready to go. So, we’ll take a look at this film and see where we are before next week.

Doesn’t exactly sound like a resounding “yes.”

Here are a few other observations from Saturday:

– Birdsong had the steadier hand this morning, and completed his first three passes of the scrimmage. Holcombe missed on all three of his first throws, but connected with Kaleb Harris on his fourth for a 65-yard touchdown. (By the way, this TE crew of Ryan Yurachek, Emanuel Byrd, Harris and Joe Woodrum looks like a talented bunch.) And for those comparing and contrasting Birdsong and Holcombe, remember Holcombe had a really nice day at the Greenbrier, 14 for 25 for 154 yards.

– Stew Butler is wearing those extra pounds very well right now. He’s running with a lot of power and breaking tackles. His 16-yard touchdown was quite impressive, bouncing off several defenders to get into the end zone.

– I’ll be stunned if Litton jumps to the starting spot. Marshall started Cato as a true freshman out of necessity and the Herd has enough veteran QBs where that shouldn’t be necessary. But dang it if he isn’t showing a bunch of progress on the field. He made some nice throws, including a nifty touchdown strike in the back corner of the end zone to Justin Hunt and a jumping catch by Josh Knight for 16 yards. He also ran for a 24-yard touchdown. The coaches often talk about “it” and “moxie” in describing quarterbacks. Looks like Litton has plenty.

– A couple of in-state boys on defense made their case for playing time this fall. Look at the stats below and DB Cody Carter from Barboursville and LB Chase Hancock from Daniels had pretty good days. Doc isn’t shy about playing walk-ons, so you might hear their names come September, at least on special teams.

That’s all from here for now. We’ll be at every practice this week leading up to next Saturday’s Green and White spring game. We’ll see how long it takes after that to find out about a new Marshall starting QB.

Statistics

Rushing

Butler 14-102, 2 TD

Pittman 12-61

Holcombe 6-9

Cofield 8-31

Birdsong 5-14

Litton 2-35, TD

Passing

Birdsong 14-24-148

Holcombe 7-21-11, TD, 2 INT

Litton 12-20-151, TD

Receiving

Foster 5-57

Jean-Louis 5-37

Allen 1-5

Harris 3-88, TD

Byrd 5-64

McManus 3-37

Hunt 2-17, TD

Reaves 2-39

Green 2-13

Pittman 1-7

Woodrum 1-19

Yurachek 2-18

Knight 1-17

Significant Defensive Performances

Carter 8 tkl, .5 TFL, PBU, FF

Hunter 8 tkl, 6 solo

Hancock 7 tkl, INT, PBU

Rodney Allen 5 tkl

Letman 5 tkl, PBU

Gant 5 tkl, INT, 2 PBU

Michael Johnson sack (touch sack), 2 PBU

Bee .5 TFL

Dozier .5 TFL, FR

Baxter 2 PBU

Dews PBU

Judgment Day for UAB coming in June?

April 10, 2015 by Derek Redd

It looks like the University of Alabama at Birmingham will learn its future in Conference USA, if it has one, at the June executive committee meetings. The Virginian-Pilot is reporting that’s when the conference will decide whether to keep UAB, despite the school dropping football, or part ways. Current league bylaws dictate that all member schools must field football teams.

The answer I received when I called the conference offices Friday afternoon was that C-USA was remaining patient with the decision and monitoring UAB’s next moves. But let’s face it, UAB announced its decision to drop the sport in early December. By those meetings, UAB will have had six months to decide whether it wants to change course, and C-USA will have had six months to watch the university deal with the issue. That’s plenty of time for both sides.

UAB president Ray Watts said he would lobby for his school to remain in C-USA, and it is one of two charter members remaining (Southern Miss is the other and Marshall, Rice and UTEP are the next most-senior members, joining in 2005). One question, though, is how important is charter membership in a conference that didn’t exist until 1995 and has nine members who joined in 2013 or later? This isn’t exactly Michigan threatening to leave the Big Ten.

The conference could decide to keep UAB around, but would it really be fair to give the university a cut of conference TV revenues — built mostly upon football — when it doesn’t field a team in its most crucial sport?

I agree with Virginian-Pilot scribe Harry Minium, who predicts C-USA will let UAB stay in the conference for the 2015-16 season while it searches for a new home. The conference has been gutted in recent years, mostly by the American Athletic Conference, so it knows how much uncertainty stinks. Commissioner Britton Banowsky seems like a guy who wouldn’t want those student-athletes set adrift into the void with no clear direction.

Direction still seems to be lacking at UAB these days. The administration was even having problems picking a consultant to review the decision to drop football. As patient as Conference USA has been with the Blazers, it looks like UAB’s time might run out in June.

 

Doc’s still looking for some energy

April 9, 2015 by Derek Redd

Marshall football coach Doc Holliday sounded like he was looking for a little more fire from his team during Thursday’s practice, the first one in a while that was held at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, rather than the indoor facility. He didn’t go as far as he did in front of cameras last week when he called that practice “awful,” but you could tell Thursday he wasn’t pleased.

There were some things out there I didn’t particularly like, but it’s spring ball and that’s what spring ball is all about.

Maybe a change of scenery would help the team, and it’s going to get that Saturday, when the Herd scrimmages at the AdvoCare Sports Performance Center at The Greenbrier, the same facility the New Orleans Saints used for their preseason camp last season. A lot of those players likely haven’t seen that type of opulence (I sure didn’t until I visited two Mays ago) and that should be a fun adventure. Plus, they’ll get a taste of exactly what an NFL facility looks and feels like, which is another type of opulence.

Check back with charlestondailymail.com later tonight or with the Friday print edition of the Daily Mail for a report on a pair of transfers finally getting their chance to work their way up the depth chart — linebacker Shawn Petty and defensive end Blake Keller.

Conference title games could look different soon

April 7, 2015 by Derek Redd

Looks like the ACC and Big 12 will get what they want when it comes to conference football championship games.

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com reports that restrictions on those title games will be relaxed by 2016. For the Big 12 that could mean a championship game with a 10-team conference. Current rules require 12 teams for a conference title game. For the ACC that could mean one of several things. Could that mean the top two teams regardless of division would play for the title? Could that mean what Bob Bowlsby — Big 12 commissioner and chairman of the new NCAA Football Oversight Committee — mentioned to Dodd, that the ACC might split into three divisions with the top two division champs playing for the title?

And what might it mean for Conference USA and other smaller conferences? C-USA spokeswoman Courtney Morrison-Archer said the conference hasn’t made any decisions yet, one way or the other.

“We would be supportive of this type of legislation,” she said. “Not saying we would do things differently, but it would give us more flexibility if we did decide to make a change.”

On one hand, making sure the best two teams in the conference, not just the best in each division, play for the conference title isn’t a bad idea. That one last win over a good opponent could make the difference between the Group of Five bid in the access bowls and pre-Christmas bowl game versus another Go5 foe. On the other hand, fighting for a division title is a bit more streamlined than playing to finish among the top two of some convoluted formula.

Any vote won’t come for a little while, but it looks inevitable. Who takes the NCAA up on the proposition remains to be seen.

Herd gets a spring practice visitor

April 7, 2015 by Derek Redd

Maybe the most interesting thing that came from Marshall’s April 7 football practice wasn’t something that happened in the field of play. Former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano paid a visit to the Thundering Herd during their session in the indoor facility. Marshall coach Doc Holliday said he’ll spend a couple days in Huntington around the program.

Schiano called Holliday, as the two have known each other for a long time. Schiano has been looking to return to coaching following his dismissal in Tampa Bay, and has said he’d return to the sport a changed coach. Might change include using a high-tempo offense? If there’s a team to observe along those lines, Marshall is among the best at it.

Another fun observation was safety Taj Letman’s celebration following a strip interception. He grabbed the ball in mid-air and was heading toward the end zone when the whistle blew. Then he tossed the ball into the air and shot an imaginary arrow through it. He pulled a Katniss Everdeen or a Green Arrow, depending on whether your reading habits swing toward young adult fiction or comic books.

Check back tonight at charlestondailymail.com or in Wednesday’s print edition for a story on Kaare Vedvik’s attempted move to punter, and how one of his mentors just happens to be all-Conference USA first-team punter Tyler Williams. Practice resumes Thursday. Whether it heads back into the indoor facility or moves back out to Edwards Stadium remains to be seen. There’s a 40-percent chance of rain that day, so it’s a coin flip.

Doc doesn’t mind a feisty football team

April 3, 2015 by Derek Redd

Marshall’s spring practice week concluded Friday, and suffice it to say it was … energetic. There were a couple of skirmishes during the day, including one attempted … dropkick? ‘Twas an epic fail.

Doc Holliday wasn’t too worried about the extracurricular activity. He was fine with the scrapping, as long as it didn’t waste time. One of the things that kept last season’s Marshall team on point was the edge that it had all the time, especially in practice. And that edge bled over to game day.

Among the highlights of Friday’s session was the first play of 11-on-11 time, when Michael Birdsong hit Ryan Yurachek on a deep route for a touchdown.Watch out for an upcoming story on Birdsong’s first shot at the Marshall offense after a year of learning every opponent’s offense as the scout team quarterback. Later in the day, Chase Litton dropped back to throw and the ball slipped from his hands. As the spun in the air, Damien Dozier plucked it from the atmosphere for a pick-six.

And so went the second week of spring practice. Next week’s practice schedule will end in Greenbrier County with a Saturday scrimmage at the AdvoCare Sports Performance Center. So, until later, Happy Easter.

If Doc ain’t happy, no one’s happy

March 31, 2015 by Derek Redd

It might not be the best audio because of the wind, but allow me to transcribe that first statement from Doc Holliday.

That’s not the standard or the expectation we have of the way we practice around here to get to where we want to go. That just doesn’t happen around here. I thought it was awful. There was no leadership. We did a poor job coaching them up and it’s obvious we didn’t play very well.

You wanna know something I never heard last season? Any evaluation like that of the 2014 Herd football team. Now, even the best teams’ coaches will, every once in a while, come up to the media scrum and read their team the riot act. They just do it to give the players a kick in the pants and remind them of the intensity necessary on the practice field. Holliday would end every practice last season talking about how much better they got from the day before.

And, to be honest, Tuesday wasn’t the most finely tuned practice I’ve seen from this team. But, if you’re gonna have a clunker, you might as well have it in the spring.

Check later tonight on charlestondailymail.com or in Wednesday’s print edition for a feature on new tight end coach Todd Goebbel, a man who is juggling a lot of jobs in his return to Huntington.