2011 Marshall Preview – Offense
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Posted May 28, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd Offense

Marshall Thundering Herd

Preview 2011 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: Marshall's struggles on offense show no signs of going away. A year after ranking No. 11 in Conference USA scoring and total offense, the Herd could be stuck in neutral once again in 2011. The problem is that the program has a dearth of catalysts to get the attack cranking and put defenses on their heels. Whoever wins the job, A.J. Graham or Eddie Sullivan, quarterback will be the domain of a raw and untested sophomore. The running game ranked 114th nationally a year ago and the offensive line has undergone some serious turnover. The wide receiver tandem of Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson will be the strength of the offense, but will you know it if the young quarterbacks can't deliver the ball consistently? Lacking the scoring punch to make a quick turnaround, Marshall will continue to have problems moving the chains and putting points on the board.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Eddie Sullivan
6-24, 134 yds, 1 TD, 0 INTs
Rushing: Martin Ward
96 carries, 345 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Aaron Dobson
44 catches, 689 yds, 5 TDs

Star of the offense: Junior WR Aaron Dobson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB A.J. Graham or Eddie Sullivan
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Jamie Hatten
Best pro prospect: Senior LT Ryan Tillman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dobson, 2) Junior WR Antavious Wilson, 3) Tillman
Strength of the offense: The wide receivers, pass protection
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, the running game, depth of talent on the line, third down conversions, reaching the end zone


State of the Unit: Starting QB Brian Anderson has graduated. Mark Cann has decided to leave the program. And ballyhooed Clemson transfer Willy Korn never made it to Huntington. The Herd is turning the page at quarterback, hoping to finally recapture some of the long-lost magic at the position that helped make the program so successful during the Bob Pruett era from 1996-04.

Anderson was a veteran, but made way too many mistakes, and won't be impossible to replace. Coming out of spring, the dead heat to do just that pitted a pair of sophomores, 6-2, 195-pound Eddie Sullivan versus 6-4, 208-pound A.J. Graham . A product of Tallahassee, Graham was a key recruit from the 2009 class, choosing Marshall over schools from the ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12. He makes a nice presence in the pocket and has the feet to escape trouble when necessary. He has the highest ceiling of the pair, yet only went 10-of-12 for 95 yards in 2010 and wasn't able to build separation in April. Sullivan actually appeared in more games last fall, but went an awkward 6-of-24 for 134 yards and a touchdown. Although not as physically impressive as Graham, he too can make things happen on the ground.

Watch Out For … the staff to wait until the very last minute to pull the trigger on this decision. Doc Holliday couldn't decide on his quarterback for a reason—neither stood out during the spring session. Raw and ineffective, it wouldn't be a surprise if both players earned starts in the early going until a hot hand can be found.
Strength: Athleticism. In Graham and Sullivan, Marshall has a pair of sophomores, with the young and agile legs to escape the rush and make it to the sticks. At the high school level and since arriving in Huntington, both players have displayed an ability to improvise when a play breaks down.
Weakness: The passing game. It's an area that's vexed the Herd for years, ranking no higher than 90th nationally in passing efficiency in 2009 and 2010. Considering how inconsistent the inexperienced quarterbacks have been during the offseason, this situation could get a little worse before getting better.
Outlook: Ever since Byron Leftwich graduated nearly a decade ago, this position has become a bad dream for Marshall fans. As each year passes, they watch in frustration as another set of quarterbacks fails to build a bridge to the past. Graham and Sullivan both have long-term potential, but the upcoming season will be wrought with considerable growing pains.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: The Herd did a poor job of replacing Darius Marshall in 2010, ranking 114th nationally on the ground and averaging only 97 yards a game. It was a dual-responsibility of a line that blocked poorly and a collection of backs that failed to make yards on their own. With the carries being shared, no one ran for more than 400 yards a season ago, making for a jumbled race for touches this season.

Coming out of spring, 5-9, 186-pound sophomore Tron Martinez had the inside track on the starting job. An explosive back, he hits the hole hard and can pick up yards after contact. A starter in three games a year ago, he carried 78 times for 268 yards and a touchdown, adding eight catches for 74 yards and another score.

Looking to bump Martinez from his perch is a trio of diverse Marshall runners. The most experienced of the backs is 5-9, 201-pound junior Martin Ward , a former top recruit from the 2008 class who's been producing ever since. A physical, between-the-tackles runner, had led the team with 345 yards and a score on 96 carries, but had issues finding space. Sophomore Essray Taliaferro got a taste of action as a rookie, running for 98 yards and a score on 20 carries. Just 5-8 and 178-pounds, he might be better served as a member of the third down offense.

Watch Out For … the debut of Travon Van . After originally committing to Florida, he changed course and opted for Huntington instead. A 5-10, 190-pound playmaker, he possesses the quickness, burst, and change-of-direction to provide an instant jolt of energy to this running game.
Strength: Different options. The Herd has a number of different backs who can stop on a dime and take the fast track through the secondary. However, it also harbors a physical runner, such as Ward, who can soften the opposition between the tackles and move the chains in short yardage.
Weakness: A true feature back. Now that Ward, the most experienced runner, has slid on the depth chart, Marshall will be inexperienced at the top. If it's Martinez, he's only 186 pounds and hasn't proven he can take the pounding on a weekly basis.
Outlook: While this backfield has decent potential, it's going to be important for one member of the quartet to pull away and command 20 carries a game. Martinez has that potential and Ward has done it before, but it's Van who has the fan base buzzing. If he can hit the ground running and quickly approach potential, he might shoot up the depth chart.
Unit Rating: 5


State of the Unit: The core of the receivers will be formed around the three returning players who caught at least 20 passes a year ago. While not a remarkable ensemble of pass-catchers, it has the potential to improve as the season progresses, but only if it gets an equal amount of support from a suspect set of quarterbacks.

The new cover boy of the group on the outside is 6-3, 203-pound junior Aaron Dobson , who's on the verge of becoming one of Conference USA's top wideouts. A big-play receiver from the moment he stepped foot on campus, he has the long gait and the good speed to get behind the secondary. Adjusting well to balls in the air and picking up yards after the catch, he had a team-high 44 receptions for 689 yards and five touchdowns.

He'll be joined at "X" receiver by 6-0, 196-pound junior Antavious Wilson, who's looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued season. He missed four games and wasn't playing at full strength, catching just 29 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns. However, this is the same Herd receiver who'd caught 60 balls the previous year, showing good polish and poise for a young player.

Topping off the starting lineup from the slot, or H receiver, is 5-9, 196-pound senior Troy Evans , a former role player about to get a promotion in his final year. Slippery in space, he started three games in 2010, catching 21 passes for 225 yards and three scores. Marshall's most seasoned players off the bench will be 6-3, 199-pound senior Wayne Bonner and 5-10, 178-pound junior Andre Booker . Booker is a versatile and exciting converted running back, who will make things happen in the open field. A natural operating out of the slot, he ran for 264 yards and a score, adding 17 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown in 2010. It's now or never for Bonner, a disappointment since transferring from East Mississippi Community College two years ago. Long and lean, he has the physical ability to make plays over the top when Dobson needs a break.

The Herd suffered a big loss from the graduation of TE Lee Smith, who's now a member of the New England Patriots. His successor in Huntington will be 6-5, 238-pound junior Jamie Hatten . Although he hasn't played much, he's set to break out, using his long frame, speed, and physicality to make an immediate impact in 2011.

Watch Out For … Wilson to recapture the form he had in 2009. A better performer than he showed last fall, he'll battle Dobson to see who'll be the No. 1 receiver now that his knee is healthy. One of the most talented playmakers on this team, he's out to remind people of that fact in 2011.
Strength: The outside guys. When you put Dobson and Wilson on the field at the same time, you've got a pair of dynamic threats capable of beating defensive backs in different ways. Dobson has the size and physicality to out muscle the other team. Wilson can hurt you with his speed and elusiveness.
Weakness: Tight end. While Hatten has a chance to be very good, the drop-off from Smith and his predecessor Cody Slate, both hoping to make NFL rosters, will be steep. Marshall likes to work the middle of the field with this position, which will put pressure on Hatten to deliver right away.
Outlook: If Wilson recaptures his groove and Hatten can flatten the learning curve, Marshall will have a quality set of receivers on the top of the depth chart. Depth and consistency, however, continue to be issues that need to be addressed. Of course, a lot will also depend on the play of the quarterbacks, which has been spotty during the offseason.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: The Herd loses all-star C Chad Schofield and two other starters from a front wall that excelled in pass protection, but struggled to run block with any effectiveness a year ago. Coordinator Bill Legg, who also oversees the line, will have his hands full trying to get this group in order in time for the start of the season.

The leader of the remade Herd offensive line will be 6-5, 289-pound senior Ryan Tillman , a veteran of 34 career starts. The unit's most versatile player, he's handled multiple positions up front before settling down—and excelling—at left tackle a year ago. A quality athlete for a big man, he's light on his feet, gets out of his stance in a hurry, and will protect the backside of the quarterback.

The new full-time right tackle will be 6-7, 295-pound sophomore Corey Tenney , who started a pair of games in his first season of action. A former tight end in high school, he's literally grown into a new role, but still has a lot to learn at the position. Sophomore Alex Schooler , who has also played some guard, is battling for playing time at tackle. Another former prep tight end, he's bulked up to 6-6 and 290 pounds, earning his first start in 2010 and continuously improving his technique.

Keeping the engine moving on the inside will be 6-5, 305-pound senior C.J. Wood , the Herd's right guard. Second to Tillman with 24 career starts, he's begun fulfilling his potential when he was one of the program's top recruits of 2007. Able to play inside or outside, he uses his 6-5, 305-pound frame to power opposing blockers off the ball.

The frontrunner to be Wood's partner at left guard is 6-4, 270-pound sophomore Garrett Scott . A former three-sport star in high school, he's a quality athlete who needs to add more weight and get more reps. At the pivot, 6-4, 270-pound redshirt freshman Chris Jasperse is making a strong push for a starting job. A former walk-on, he's come a long way in a short period of time, showing a quick retention of the offense and his role within it. He'll be challenged in the summer, namely by 6-4, 318-pound senior John Bruhin . A far more physical and experienced option, he's had a history of back problems and needs to prove he can stay healthy.

Watch Out For … the arrival of Colin Munro , a transfer from Chaffey (Calif.) College. A 6-5, 310-pound tackle, he had offers to play in the Big East and Pac-12, and should make an immediate push for playing time when he arrives in August.
Strength: Pass protection. Sure, there'll be changes from last season, but the program has shown an ability of late to keep the pocket clean. A year ago, the Herd ranked 18th nationally, yielding slightly more than a sack a game. Tillman has all-star potential on the left and Tenney is a player on the rise on the right.
Weakness: Overall depth and talent. Marshall will hang its hat on Tillman and Wood, but after that pair, the situation gets thin in a hurry. This is a marginally talented offensive line that struggles to open holes for the ground game and is banking on too many former walk-ons and lightly-recruited players.
Outlook: Go ahead and add the offensive line to the list of concerns on this side of the ball. Yes, last year's unit exceeded expectations, but it also provided little help to the running game and only returns two full-time players. With so many inexperienced players filling the slots in the two-deep, mistakes and rough outings are going to be fairly commonplace.
Unit Rating: 4.5

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