In less than 24 hours, Marshall’s football team will begin spring practices.
(Looks outside. Sees that it’s snowing.)
Ahem … I said “spring” practices.
(Looks again. Still snowing.)
DANG IT! I said “SPRING!”
(Third look. More snow.)
So, in less than 24 hours, Marshall’s football team will begin spring-ish practices. Come rain, snow, sleet or hail, the Thundering Herd will begin its attempt to rebound from a disappointing 5-7 season in 2012. It will do so with a nearly brand-new staff under Doc Holliday, as just three assistant coaches return from last season. So what will be the big questions raised during these 15 practices?
Here are some that top the list …
– Can the Herd improve its defense?
It couldn’t get much worse than 101st in total defense and 119th in scoring defense, which is where the Herd finished in the FBS last season. Oh … and Marshall’s top two tacklers, safeties Dominick Legrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, have graduated. Plus, Holliday told Marshall’s athletic website that two-year starting defensive lineman Marques Aiken graduated and will not return.
That’s a few holes to fill.
But it’s not like Marshall doesn’t have talent returning. It looks like freshman All-American D.J. Hunter will move from linebacker to safety and be joined by former four-star recruit A.J. Leggett, who missed last year following shoulder surgery. The Herd also gets Kent Turene, whom the coaches have been high on, among others. That should make things at least a little easier for new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and the staff.
– Coaches say they want the offense to get better, but how much better can this offense get?
First in the FBS in passing, sixth in yards per game and seventh in points per game is pretty darned good, but the coaches have found places where the offense can improve. The Herd averaged 169 rushing yards per game last season to rank a respectable 54th in the FBS, but the coaches think they can be even better. That will come with the maturation of Marshall’s trio of freshman running backs — Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson — and an improved offensive line. New line Coach Alex Mirabal said he’d like to see less musical chairs in the trenches, that having multifaceted reserve linemen is good, but having the starters more entrenched in their roles will improve cohesion.
– OK, that’s the running game. What about the passing game?
C-USA MVP Rakeem Cato is back, as are record-setting slot receiver Tommy Shuler and red-zone threat Gator Hoskins, so that’s a great start. The other two main cogs of that machine, senior outside receivers Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson, have graduated and there should be a battle royale to fill those roles. Among the candidates: Penn State transfer Shawney Kersey, Demetrius Evans, Davonte Allen, Jazz King and Craig Wilkins.
– Anything else we need to know?
Welp, the Herd practices Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week, and the forecast calls for high temperatures no warmer than 52 degrees on any one of those three days. If you’re headed out to watch Marshall practice, take a jacket.