2011 Marshall Preview – Defense
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Posted May 28, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd Defense

Marshall Thundering Herd

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Thrust into the coordinator's seat last February, Chris Rippon did a fine job in his first season in Huntington. The Herd ranked fourth in Conference USA total defense and scoring D, while leading the league in sacks. Now, the coach is demanding that his unit be even better. Marshall returns nine starters from that group. While LB Mario Harvey is a monstrous loss, the return of DE Vinny Curry, who considered leaving early, softens the blow. He's an early candidate for the conference's defensive player of the year, with a shot to go national in 2011. A lot of the credit a year ago belongs with a secondary that flew past expectations to become an unexpected strength. With FS Omar Brown carrying the banner, just about everyone of significance returns to the defensive backfield. The biggest need area, though, centers on takeaways, something the Herd has been unable to master over the past few seasons.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Vinny Curry, 94
Sacks: Vinny Curry, 12
Interceptions: Rashad Jackson, Omar Brown, Donald Brown, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Vinny Curry
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Jeremiah Taylor
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Monterius Lovett
Best pro prospect: Curry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Curry, 2) Senior FS Omar Brown, 3) Junior LB Devin Arrington
Strength of the defense: The pass rush, the secondary, returning starters, red zone defense
Weakness of the defense: Stopping good running teams, takeaways

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The Herd is bringing back seven players with at least one start in their career and a star pass rusher who'll require constant attention from the opposition. After leading the conference in sacks and generally holding up well at the point of attack, Marshall is hoping to take its level of play up a notch along the defensive front.

So good was Vinny Curry last season that he gave serious consideration to leaving early for the NFL before deciding to return for his senior year. An outstanding pass rusher, he's also tough against the run, making 94 tackles, 18 stops for loss, a dozen sacks, and 16 quarterback hurries. Now up to 6-4 and 252 pounds, he has both the quickness and upper body strength to beat his man and get into the backfield. Even better, he plays with maximum intensity on every down, wearing down opponents in the second half.

With Curry getting so much attention, it'll free up 6-4, 270-pound sophomore Jeremiah Taylor on the other side. More of a strongside end compared to the speed of Curry, he played in 10 games and made a dozen tackles in 2010. He'll get pushed by 6-2, 227-pound sophomore Trevor Black , who's more of a situational speed rusher. Explosive off the snap, he started two games as a rookie, making 23 tackles, three stops for loss, and a sack. The successor to Curry is 6-5, 231-pound sophomore James Rouse , a five-game starter last fall. He has the right mix of size and speed for success, but needs to hone his skills after making just 19 tackles and no sacks.

The anchor on the inside is 6-3, 300-pound senior Delvin Johnson, the program's nose tackle. Tough against the run, he's started 18 games for the Herd, making 20 tackles in 2010. Lining up next to him at tackle is 6-4, 270-pound sophomore Brandon Sparrow , who made a positive first impression on the staff as a rookie. Quick and light on his feet, he earned a start and made 12 tackles, laying the ground floor for a solid career. Behind him is 6-4, 248-pound sophomore Marques Aiken , another of the young linemen expected to play a key role in the future of the line. Earning starts in three games, the undersized lineman had 15 stops in his first year.

Watch Out For … someone else to get a handful of sacks. With Curry getting doubled and even triple-teamed at times, Taylor, Rouse, and Black will never see more than one blocker in their quest to get into the backfield. Rouse and Black, in particular, possess the speed to be disruptive off the edge.
Strength: Curry. An SEC or ACC-type talent playing against Conference USA blockers, his numbers are predictably healthy. He's often too quick and too strong for opposing tackles, disrupting the other team's rhythm and freeing up his own guys to make plays.
Weakness: Stuffing the run. The Herd had problems in this area at times last fall, getting beaten between the tackles by some of the tougher opponents on the schedule. The interior linemen are pedestrian, a situation that could get worse now that all-star linebacker and leading tackler Mario Harvey has graduated.
Outlook: Curry is on his way to becoming one of the best defensive linemen to ever play at Marshall. His presence instantly upgrades the front wall, giving the Herd a source of pressure on every down. The key will be to provide him with more support, ensuring that the Herd line doesn't become a one-man gang.
Unit Rating: 6


State of the Unit: While the Herd welcomes back three starters with extensive experience, linebacker is also the site of the program's biggest void. Mario Harvey finally ran out of eligibility, taking a ton of tackles, big plays, and all-star honors with him. Although he'll be impossible to replace, Marshall does harbor the experienced athletes to soften the blow in the fall.

Tasked with succeeding Harvey at weakside is 6-2, 207-pound junior Devin Arrington , who'll be a better fit here after playing at strongside in 2010. One of the fastest defenders in Huntington, he began his career as a defensive back before moving up a level. He has outstanding range and the closing speed to be employed on the blitz, making 64 tackles, four stops for loss, and a sack.

Taking over at Arrington's old strongside spot will be 5-10, 214-pound senior George Carpenter . A try-hard defender, who's spent the bulk of his career on special teams, he played in all 12 games as a backup in 2010 and chipped in 16 tackles.

The crucial battle in the middle is between 6-3, 232-pound senior Kellen Harris and 6-3, 234-pound senior Tyson Gale . Despite starting just three games, Harris racked up 68 tackles and five stops for loss last season. A former high school wresting champ, he has the right size for the middle and uses his hands well when fighting through traffic jams. Gale is a nice all-around athlete, with the instincts and size to get the nod in August. He started eight games a year ago, and made 46 tackles and three stops for loss.

Watch Out For … Arrington to hit the weights hard between now and September. He has a lot of natural ability, but will also be giving away plenty of weight, a concern on running plays. If he can pack on 10-15 pounds without losing any of his explosiveness, he could end up being the best linebacker of the group.
Strength: Athleticism. Above all else, these Herd defenders will cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Collectively, they move like safeties, yet will still hit like linebackers. If the secondary allows it to happen, this is a group ideally suited to let loose on the blitz when the time is right.
Weakness: Strongside. Relatively speaking, this will be the weak link in the linebacker chain. Carpenter is a very nice player to have on a squad, but he's better suited to play on the second team and be an ace of the special teams. Plus, his size could make him vulnerable in pass defense.
Outlook: The corps can't possibly be the same without Harvey, who offset a lot of the defense's shortcomings during his time. Fortunately, Marshall has a collection of talented athletes here and three players with at least eight career starts on the resume. They'll be asked to play from sideline-to-sideline and clean up as many messes as possible.
Unit Rating: 5


State of the Unit: To the credit of the defensive staff, a rebuilt Herd secondary exceeded modest expectations in 2010. Sure, it allowed too many yards and big plays, but it also stiffened when it was necessary and yielded the fewest touchdown passes in Conference USA. From that group, five players with starting experience return and the graduation casualties were minimal.

The warden of the secondary is 5-11, 194-pound senior Omar Brown , a fixture at free safety. Playing much bigger than his actual size, he's one of the program's top open field tackles, yet does a nice job in coverage as well. About to enter his third year as a starter, he's coming off his best season with the program, finishing third with 88 tackles and tops with three interceptions.

One of the surprises of the offseason, 6-0, 196-pound true freshman D.J. Hunter held a slight lead at strong safety exiting spring. Cleared to play in February, the former Tennessee signee has blazing speed, needing to show he can play with an enforcer's mentality. The teammate Hunter has jumped for now is 6-0, 182-pound junior Donald Brown , one of last year's top performers in the secondary. Physically gifted to regain his job, he started every game in 2010, making 75 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, three picks, and a pair of fumble recoveries.

An unexpected starter in nine games last year, 5-10, 166-pound sophomore Monterius Lovett is out to hold off the competition in the summer. Undersized, yet very feisty and confident, he picked up 30 tackles, his first pick, and five pass breakups. His partner at cornerback is expected to be 5-11, 154-pound sophomore Darryl Roberts , a starter in four games of his first season. He had 16 tackles and an interception, but needs to add weight in order to handle the physical rigors of the job. The most experienced reserve is 5-9, 178-pound senior Rashad Jackson , a former transfer from Joliet (Ill.) Community College. Starting eight times in 2010, he had 37 stops, three interceptions, and seven passes broken up.

Watch Out For … Hunter's behavior. No longer a Volunteer because his scholarship was pulled, he's been involved in some egregious off-field problems going back to his high school days. Marshall has afforded him a second chance, one he'd be wise to handle with care since it might be his last one.
Strength: Red zone defense. In one of last year's bigger surprises, the Herd secondary became unusually rigid when the opposition drove deep into its territory. While soft between the twenties, Marshall excelled in the red zone, allowing 18 touchdown passes, fewest in pass-happy Conference USA.
Weakness: Takeaways. Make it three years running that the Herd has been feeble in the area of interceptions. After picking off just nine in 2008 and 2009, it intercepted only 11 last fall despite being thrown on 441 times.
Outlook: After raising the bar with a handful of unseasoned players a year ago, the Marshall secondary is poised to be even tighter in 2011. There are holes, but also a nice cast of defensive backs, including one of the better sets of safeties in the league. If the young cornerbacks keeps evolving, navigating this defense through the air will not be easy.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Unlike a year ago, the Herd is bringing back both its regular punter and placekicker. However, that's not exactly cause for a celebration around Huntington. P Kase Whitehead is back for his senior year and his fourth year as a regular. He raised his average to 40.1 yards, yet had two more punts blocked, giving him five for his career.

The placekicker will once again be senior Tyler Warner , who was used sparingly in his debut as a full-timer. A 6-4, 215-pounder, with good pop in his leg, he hit 5-of-8 field goal attempts and missed just one of his 32 extra point attempts.

The kickoff and punt returners are going to be junior Andre Booker and senior Troy Evans , respectively. Booker averaged a team-high 23.5 yards a year ago, while Evans took a kickoff back for six and averaged 7.5 yards on punts.

Watch Out For … Warner's ability to connect from long range. He can obviously reach the goal posts, but can he split them? Just 2-of-5 beyond 30 yards, with a long of 41 yards, he needs to improve his consistency when the offense stalls further from the end zone.
Strength: Covering kicks. One of the few areas of special teams that Marshall excelled at in 2010, the team allowed only 20 yards a return. Putting quality athletes on the coverage team, the Herd had a knack for getting downfield, busting the wedge, and making stops in the open field.
Weakness: Blocks. The Herd has had way too many breakdowns in this area recently, allowing two punts and a field goal to be blocked in 2010. The blockers have been sloppy in both areas, forcing the kickers to rush even when they're boots don't get touched.
Outlook: If Marshall can surpass mediocre on special teams this fall, it'll be happy. There are veterans, but not a lot of exceptional talents. While Booker has potential to be a weapon, the two kickers, Whitehead and Warner, are inconsistent and unlikely to achieve all-star status.
. Unit Rating: 4.5

- 2011 Marshall Preview | 2011 Marshall Offense
- 2011 Marshall Defense | 2011 Marshall Depth Chart
- Marshall Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006