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2012 Marshall Preview – Defense
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CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 11, 2012


CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd Defense


Marshall Thundering Herd

Preview 2012 - Defense


- 2012 Marshall Preview | 2012 Marshall Offense
- 2012 Marshall Defense | 2012 Marshall Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The 2011 Herd defense featured two First Team All-Conference USA performers, DE Vinny Curry and FS Omar Brown. Both standouts are now attempting to make NFL rosters, leaving their alma mater on the lookout for new defensive playmakers. Only a few starters are back from last season, which is sure to open the door for newcomers, true freshmen, transfers and JUCO transfers, to make quick ascents up the depth chart. LB Devin Arrington is the only senior listed on the team’s post-spring two-deep, an indication of just how green and inexperienced the D will be in the fall. Even with Curry tormenting quarterbacks, Marshall had a particularly tough time defending the pass last year. Darryl Roberts will attempt to do his part as the team’s top corner, but keep an eye on rookie A.J. Leggett, who spurned a handful of top-shelf programs to play in Huntington. The linebackers are nothing special, though the staff seems to like the ceiling of sophomore Jermaine Holmes in the middle. The D-line is a bit of a riddle, and not just because Curry is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Starting NT Delvin Johnson also graduated, and DE James Rouse injured his Achilles in the spring. DT Marques Aiken and DE Jeremiah Taylor will be asked to become leaders after cracking the starting lineup in 2011.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Devin Arrington, 77
Sacks: Jeremiah Taylor, 3.5
Interceptions: Monterius Lovett, Devin Arrington, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Devin Arrington
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Alex Bazzie
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jermaine Holmes
Best pro prospect: Arrington
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Arrington, 2) Sophomore CB Monterius Lovett, 3) Junior DE Jeremiah Taylor
Strength of the defense: Inside depth, team speed, depth in the secondary
Weakness of the defense: Proven pass rushers, linebacker, coverage softness, red-zone stops 

Defensive Line

The D-line will be moving forward without a couple of key players, namely perennial all-star DE Vinny Curry, now of the Philadelphia Eagles. Looking to offset some of Curry’s robust production will be junior Jeremiah Taylor , who is gearing up for his second season in the starting lineup. Another of the team’s former walk-ons to buck the odds, he delivered 45 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss, 3.5 sacks and a team-high 11 quarterback hurries in 2011. Now he’ll have to show that he can raise the bar even higher without the protection of Curry on the other side.

Eyeing the open job at the other end spot is junior Alex Bazzie , a career backup up to this point. Coming off the bench last season, he was in on 21 tackles, just one of which was for minus yards. The Herd is expecting more momentum-changing plays from a 6-2, 235-pound who plays with the speed and burst of an outside linebacker.

If Bazzie can’t deliver 6-3, 226-pound sophomore Ra’Shawde Myers just might. Another of the Marshall speed rushers, he came on late in the spring session, looking to build on last year’s nine tackles and one sack off the bench.

The bellwether on the interior for Marshall will be junior DT Marques Aiken . He’s only 6-4 and 270 pounds, yet plays with ample heart and enough quickness to beat his man off the snap. Despite being dinged up for much of 2011, he missed just a single game, winding up with 39 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss and a sack. If he can continue to handle the rigors of battling much bigger players, Aiken will contend for all-league honors.

His partner inside will likely be junior Brandon Sparrow, the frontrunner at nose tackle. He earned his first start in 2011, winding up with 22 tackles, two stops for minus yards and a sack. For a 6-4, 270-pound, he’s surprisingly light on his feet, and moves rather well laterally. If he can tighten the screws against the run, he’ll have earned his scholarship this fall.

Watch Out For … newcomer Steve Dillon to quickly scale the depth chart. The one-time recruit of USC is going to be a Pac-12 caliber player spending the next four years against middling Conference USA competition. Recruited to play end, he’s added enough weight to be a candidate at Aiken’s tackle position.
Strength: Depth on the inside. The Thundering Herd is loaded with experienced bodies on the inside, including oft-injured veteran James Rouse and beefy junior-college transfer Ken Smith . The program has enough depth on the inside to consider moving one of the tackles outside to support a thin group of ends.
Weakness: Proven pass rushers. Not only does Curry’s graduation leave an enormous void on the outside, but the program looks ill-equipped to pick up the slack. Taylor is a nice player, but he also arrived without a scholarship. Bazzie, Myers and the rest of the contenders for reps have a long way to go before they can be considered proven commodities.
Outlook: With the graduation of Curry, Marshall is putting out an APB for a little star power and consistency along the front wall. The Herd will be experienced and hard-working, but it remains to be seen if it’ll be effective enough to properly support the back seven. The program houses some nice players up front, but it’s still looking for the kind of spark that messes with the other team’s offensive rhythm.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Linebackers

The Herd will be rebuilding at linebacker, the result of losing three contributing seniors to graduation. Taking the baton as the new leader is former safety Devin Arrington , one of the two starters on the outside. The 6-2, 209-pound senior plays with all of the range and athleticism of a defensive back, displaying as much pure speed as any of the team’s defenders. Tied for fourth on the team with 77 tackles in 2011, he also added a couple of picks, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

The other starting outside linebacker will likely be 6-3, 226-pound junior Billy Mitchell. A tight end when he first arrived on campus, he was quickly shifted to linebacker, where his size and toughness will best be utilized. He played in every game of 2011 to earn a letter, collecting 22 total tackles.

Taking over in the middle will be the youngest member of the starting unit, sophomore Jermaine Holmes . He actually started eight games as a rookie, but was only able to deliver 26 tackles and 2.5 stops for loss. However, the program is confident that the hard-hitting 5-11, 238-pounder possesses the necessary physicality and natural instincts to be far more effective in his second year of action.

Although just a redshirt freshman, Armonze Daniel is banking on being a factor off the bench early in his career. For now, he’ll back up Arrington, while moonlighting on special teams. However, the heralded 6-4, 232-pound gem from the state of Indiana is too big and too athletic to not break into the rotation in 2012. At worst, he’ll earn a letter, learn from the veterans and prep to an heir apparent on the outside next fall.

Watch Out For … Holmes to look like a very different player in 2012. After getting his feet wet in his rookie year, he’s poised to break out and become a force for the Herd this fall. He plays with a low center of gravity, doesn’t miss many tackles and will light up the man with the ball. Pencil Holmes in for at least 75 stops this year.
Strength: Athleticism. Above all else, these Marshall linebackers are going to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Collectively, they move like safeties, yet all will still hit like linebackers. If the secondary allows it to happen, this is a unit ideally suited to let loose on the blitz when the time is right.
Weakness: Reps. Arrington aside, the linebackers are going to be young and nearly as green as those Marshall home jerseys. Neither Holmes nor Mitchell have played a ton at this level so far, and the backups could undergo a baptism under fire if injuries strike.
Outlook: The Herd linebackers will cover a lot of ground, but will they do when they get there? This is an undersized, inexperienced unit that could struggle to hold up versus the run. Arrington has an all-star trajectory and Holmes is a riser, but from there, Marshall is going to lack consistency on the second level.
Unit Rating: 5

Secondary

Two starters are gone from 2011, but it might feel like three since leading tackler Omar Brown was one of them. Attempting to fill the shoes of the free safety will be 6-1, 205-pound sophomore Evan McKelvey , who’ll be staring at a steep learning curve. He made just a few cameos in six games a year ago, getting in on three tackles. The original commit to Clemson has a bright future, but might need a while before being comfortable as the starter.

Providing veteran insurance for McKelvey will be junior Derek Mitchell , who came off the bench to make 22 stops a year ago. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he has the necessary size to be an asset against the run and the pass.

Now that his redshirt season is over and his damaged knee ligaments have healed, 6-0, 200-pound rookie D.J. Hunter is prepared to become the mainstay for the defense at strong safety. The one-time Tennessee signee was challenging for a job last fall before the staff decided to preserve the year. He has terrific speed in the secondary, particularly for his size.

The anchor in Huntington at cornerback will be 5-11, 175-pound junior Monterius Lovett , a returning starter. In the lineup for seven of 13 games in 2011, he made 53 tackles, picked off two passes and recovered a couple of fumbles. He plays the game very fast, very passionately and with a level of intensity that ensures he’s rarely far from the ball. Lovett has the make-up and physical qualities to be one of the sparkplug players of this D in 2012.

In the lead to nab the other starting corner job is junior Darryl Roberts , who has a lot of experience in the lineup over the past couple of seasons. In 2010, in he started four games, and a year ago, he started nine, contributing 37 tackles and seven pass breakups. The 5-11, 177-pound has added weight, yet remains susceptible to getting outmuscled on jump balls.

Sophomore Phillip Warren is suddenly the most experienced of the corners on the B team. The 5-10, 189-pound Miami native earned a letter in 2011 and started one game, making 26 stops as a backup on defense and a special teamer.

Watch Out For … a major influx of talent in the summer. The competition for jobs will be opened up in August. The Herd has added a pair of transfer safeties from Boston College, Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha . It’s also about to unleash CB A.J. Leggett , a key signee who could have played for Miami, Tennessee, Florida State or Ohio State.
Strength: Options. With the addition of the two former Boston College defensive backs and Leggett, Marshall suddenly has a desirable level of depth and competition at both safety and cornerback. Unlike a year ago, the coaching staff believes that it has a rotation of defensive backs that are virtually interchangeable.
Weakness: Too soft in coverage. While a lot of the damage was done in the game with Houston and QB Case Keenum, the Herd still needs to improve when the ball is in the air. Last year’s edition ranked 96th nationally in pass defense, giving up 10 more touchdown passes than interceptions made.
Outlook: The onus falls on the coaching staff to turn all of the eclectic parts it has in the defensive backfield into a cohesive, suffocating unit. It will not be easy. However, it will help to have access to such a deep collection of quality and experienced athletes. Fingers are crossed in Huntington that the Marshall D will be tougher to throw on than in recent seasons.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Marshall will begin this season in the uncomfortable position of needing to replace last season’s regular placekicker and punter. Out in front to replace Tyler Warner as the team’s kicker is sophomore Justin Haig. Although he did hit 1-of-2 field goal attempts, a 24-yarder, most of his work came on kickoffs. He handled all of the team’s kickoffs, but averaged a weak 59.4 yards, and produced just a single touchback.

The program’s new punter looks as if it’ll be Austin Dumas , a redshirt freshman out of Bradenton, Fla. The former walk-on is hoping to earn a scholarship, while succeeding modestly successful Kase Whitehead.

Back for one more season as the Herd’s top return man is senior Andre Booker , who’ll be in charge of punts and kickoffs. He has clear-cut All-Conference USA potential a year after averaging 10.8 yards on punts, including a touchdown, and 24.8 yards on kickoffs.

Watch Out For … Haig to struggle. In Warner, he’s replacing a steady kicker who nailed 12-of-15 attempts a year ago. Plus, if last season was any indication, Haig has a long way to go with his distance and leg strength.
Strength: Booker. The aptly-named return man can, well, book with the ball in his hands. He provides instant offense for the Thundering Herd, bringing a burst of speed and excellent vision to the special teams. With a little more exposure, he could be one of the program’s more decorated players of 2012.
Weakness: The new specialists. Not only are both of the specialists newcomers to the lineup, but they have virtually no experience between them. Haig and Dumas are likely to have a rough time getting accustomed to their new roles and responsibilities as key cogs of the special teams.
Outlook: It’s going to be Booker … and a whole lot of question marks. Marshall will find out the hard way that it’s rarely easy to break in a new punter and placekicker in the same season. The Thundering Herd is not the type of program that can afford to do the little things inefficiently, meaning this unit could cost the program at least one tight contest in the fall.
Unit Rating: 5
 
- 2012 Marshall Preview | 2012 Marshall Offense
- 2012 Marshall Defense | 2012 Marshall Depth Chart