2012 Marshall Preview – Offense
New Marshall logo
Posted Aug 11, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd Offense

Marshall Thundering Herd

Preview 2012 - Offense

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

What You Need To Know: Yes, there are some exciting parts in place on offense, but the Thundering Herd needs to coalesce into a cohesive, consistent unit between now and the opener. The previous season was emblematic of Marshall's woes, finishing 98th nationally in third down conversions and 81st in red zone touchdown percentage. The kids in the backfield and the new starting linemen need to perform at a much higher level if the attack is going to produce more points in 2012. Hope comes in the form of second-year QB Rakeem Cato, who figures to be more stable following an erratic debut in the lineup. He'll have few complaints about his targets. Aaron Dobson, Antavious Wilson and Andre Booker are all seniors, with Dobson already attracting serious attention from NFL scouts. The ground game will be a shared responsibility involving last year's top rushers, Tron Martinez and Travon Van. However, both players underwent surgical procedures earlier in the year, so their recoveries bear a close watch. Marshall is in the process of replacing last year's starting tackles, Ryan Tillman being the more difficult to supplant. Gage Niemeyer, one of many junior-college transfers expected to contribute immediately, has already taken a lead on the left side, while Garrett Scott is expected to shift outside from guard.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Rakeem Cato
182-304, 2,059 yds, 15 TDs, 11 INTs
Rushing: Tron Martinez
160 carries, 649 yds, 3 TDs
Receiving: Aaron Dobson
49 catches, 668 yds, 12 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior WR Aaron Dobson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Rakeem Cato
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Travon Van
Best pro prospect: Dobson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dobson, 2) Junior RB Tron Martinez, 3) Junior TE Gator Hoskins
Strength of the offense: Budding quarterback, depth in the backfield, the wide receivers and tight ends
Weakness of the offense: Consistency in the passing game, the O-line, finishing drives, turnovers, third-down conversions 


The Thundering Herd believes it has a quarterback of the future to build around … finally. The program that's been hunting for almost a decade for a successor to Byron Leftwich is pinning its hopes on 6-1, 180-pound sophomore Rakeem Cato who debuted to positive reviews in 2011. The then-rookie from Miami started nine games, going 182-of-304 for 2,059 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He is at his core a playmaker capable of making connections on the move, and taking off for the sticks if necessary. While Cato does not harbor a howitzer, he does throw a tight and accurate ball that'll become even more catchable over time.

Now that part-time starter A.J. Graham has been dismissed, sophomore Blake Frohnapfel is set to take over as the backup to Cato. The 6-6, 229-pounder is on his way back from a redshirt season that ended with him undergoing shoulder surgery. The two-star recruit from 2011 is a pocket passer, with the arm strength to stretch a defense.

Watch Out For … Cato to be better prepared to endure punishment. The sophomore has spent his first full offseason dedicating himself to the weight room. He has added considerably more muscle since the end of the regular season, which should help with his velocity and with his durability.
Strength: The future. Cato and Frohnapfel are only in their second season on campus. Incoming freshman Gunnar Holcombe was highly regarded by the staff. The Herd is home to three young quarterbacks who all hope to get better as more reps come in practice and on Saturdays.
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game. Cato may be trending north, but he's still just a little over a year removed from being in high school. He'll continue to make mistakes on occasion through the air, and needs to cut down on his turnovers. Plus, the backups have yet to take a snap at this level.
Outlook: Fingers are crossed that Cato can take the next step toward becoming one of Conference USA's brightest young quarterbacks. He's not only physically talented, but also operates with the poise and confidence of an upperclassman. Beyond simply evolving as a field general, it's a must that Cato avoids injury, because his backups are at least a year away from being ready for primetime.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

The two-headed running game that paced the Herd in 2011 is back for another season of production in Huntington. The lead back will be 5-9, 202-pound junior Tron Martinez who paced the Marshall ground game with 649 yards and three touchdowns on 160 carries. A powerful between-the-tackles navigator, he runs with the preferred pad level, and is always churning his legs for more yards. Martinez has a little wiggle in the open field, and also chipped in with 20 receptions for 171 yards in 2011.

Martinez will once again be complemented by sophomore Travon Van , the former Florida recruit who wound up in Huntington. He's an exciting all-around playmaker, debuting with 551 yards and three touchdowns on 143 carries to go along with 21 catches for 171 more yards. Despite being a formidable 5-10 and 200 pounds, he changes direction so fast that he's tough to pin down in open space. Van will remain the lightning in the backfield to Martinez's thunder, provided offseason hip surgery for a tear doesn't shelve him in the early going.

The Herd hopes it won't need the services of 5-10, 209-pound senior Martin Ward , but he's available if his number is called. The former key recruit from 2008 was idle for most of last fall, yet did lead the team in 2010 with 345 rushing yards on 96 carries.

Watch Out For … the impact of the young newcomers. Rookies Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler were originally committed to Miami and Arizona State, respectively, before coming to Marshall. Grooms, in particular, has the locals excited, a 5-10, 165-pound jackrabbit who just might be the fastest player on the roster.
Strength: Multiple options. The Thundering Herd boasts three different players who have started games at this level, a luxury for any coach. Between Martinez, Van and Ward, Marshall has a unique mix of physical backs who are capable of shouldering the load 20-plus times a game if needed.
Weakness: Explosive plays. Grooms might be a solution, but he's yet to step foot on campus, let alone command a role on offense. The Herd averaged just 3.5 yards a carry in 2011, a collaborative effort of the methodical runners and a sketchy O-line. Worse yet, Marshall churned out just one run of at least 25 yards on 446 carries.
Outlook: Assuming Van is available from the word go, which is no sure thing, the Herd will boast an enviable position in the running game. Martinez would have a 1,000-yard ceiling with enough touches, and Van brings instant energy to the attack. With proper blocking up front, there's no reason why Marshall shouldn't improve markedly on the ground in 2012.
Unit Rating: 6


The front man of the receiving corps—and possibly the entire offense—is 6-3, 204-pound senior Aaron Dobson , a legitimate next-level athlete. The epitome of a big-play, clutch wide receiver on the outside, he snared a team-high 49 passes for 668 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn honorable mention All-Conference USA. He'll earn a lot more in the coming year, especially if he receives a higher level of consistency from his quarterback. Dobson has great size, big mitts and outstanding body control when he elevates high into the air to make a play. His overall length, especially in the arms, will create mismatches with defensive backs every weekend of the season.

Joining Dobson in the lineup will be fellow senior Antavious Wilson, who has been in and out of the lineup since his rookie season. A year ago, he started 10 games, making 29 grabs for 462 yards and a touchdown. The 6-1, 197-pounder has spent the past couple of seasons trying to remain healthy and locate his rookie form, when he exploded on to the scene with 60 catches.

Getting his first real good chance to start on offense will be 5-10, 176-pound senior Andre Booker , an ideal fit to operate out of the slot. Best known for his work as a return man, he's slippery, very fast and able to make defenders miss. While he only caught six balls for 116 yards, his production is sure to rise, and he's always a threat to run the ball on fly sweeps.

The Herd will have a quality backup coming off the bench, junior Jermaine Kelson . Booker's caddy started three games in 2011, finishing with 23 grabs for 208 yards. At only 5-8 and 178 pounds, he's able to hide behind his blockers before jetting out into daylight.

This fall, the coaching staff will have two experienced tight ends from which to choose. Junior Gator Hoskins is essentially a 6-2, 238-pound H-back, with the hands to be a reliable target in the flat. A starter in 11 games last season, he turned his 14 receptions into 123 yards and three touchdowns. The Herd will also employ junior C.J. Crawford , who actually led the tight ends with 21 catches for 175 yards and a score in 2011. At 6-2 and 228 pounds, he's a glorified wide receiver, with the athleticism to create mismatches with linebackers.

Watch Out For … Wilson to finally approach the form he had back in 2009. He has more ability than he's been able to show over the last two seasons, in part because he had knee issues and in part because of the development of Dobson. With Dobson commanding so much attention on one end, it should free up Wilson to double last year's modest output.
Strength: Physical ability. From the wide receivers to the tight ends, the Herd is comprised of good athletes who can beat their man in a number of different ways. They're big, they're fast and they'll get separation on the defender. If QB Rakeem Cato can deliver the ball on target, it promises to be a big year for the Marshall receivers.
Weakness: Sure-things … after Dobson. Dobson is king of the corps, but Marshall hopes he isn't surrounded by a bunch of court jesters this fall. Wilson has been hit-or-miss in recent years, and Booker's specialty has been special teams, not offense. If No. 3 is getting double-teamed, it's imperative that someone else steps up and makes opponents pay.
Outlook: Dobson thought long and hard about turning pro early following the 2011 season, but instead will torment Conference USA defensive backs this fall. With enough help, he could get some All-America love by the end of the regular season. Where the Thundering Herd will earn its stripes is from the supporting cast, which has to do a lot more than just bear witness to the exploits of its all-star teammate.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Despite the loss of a couple of seniors to graduation, the program feels as if it's finally approaching a level of depth and talent that it wishes. One of the pivotal newcomers of the lineup will be 6-6, 305-pound junior Gage Niemeyer , a first-year transfer from Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) College. While raw, he played well enough in the spring to take a comfortable lead in the battle to be the team's regular starting left tackle.

Battling Niemeyer on the left side will be 6-7, 305-pound junior Jordan Jeffries , a veteran of the program who has earned his experience off the bench. While still likely to be a reserve, he brings experience, know-how and the right frame to the position.

In order to fill a void at right tackle, the Herd has shifted 6-4, 296-pound Garrett Scott outside. The junior started at left guard in 2011, laying the groundwork for a promising career in Huntington. Already a terrific all-around athlete, he has successfully added weight since arriving without sacrificing his agility and footwork.

Bucking to take Scott's old spot at left guard will be sophomore Josh Lovell . The well-sized 6-6, 295-pounder turned heads in the spring, building a lead on 6-6, 290-pound junior Alex Schooler that he hopes to maintain through the summer. Both competitors possess the necessary size and strength to become assets to the ground game.

The program received a boost when 6-4, 305-pound senior RG John Bruhin was granted an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA. Oft-injured, yet tough, experienced and influential in the locker room, there's hope that the veteran can play an entire season, and evolve into one of the line's leaders.

Back for his second of what could be four years as the starting Herd center is 6-4, 296-pound sophomore Chris Jasperse . The blue-collar, hard-working former walk-on held his own in his debut, gradually commanding more respect at the pivot. He has successfully packed on the pounds since arriving, a must to maintain his durability.

Watch Out For … how Niemeyer handles the pressure of playing in games once September rolls around. The JUCO transfer impressed in March and April, but, hey, you can only ascertain so much from spring drills. The Herd is going to need him to grow up quickly since he'll be protecting the backside of young QB Rakeem Cato.
Strength: A blue-collar work ethic. The Thundering Herd offensive line will be a physical, no-nonsense group that has been taught to play to the whistle on every down. Marshall will have good size at the point of attack, averaging right around 295 pounds, and giving away little in terms of overall strength.
Weakness: An anchor. With the graduation of Ryan Tillman, the program no longer harbors a true anchor, that blocker who can be run behind with confidence when a tough yard or two is needed. Does the Thundering Herd even have a bona fide contender for the All-Conference USA Team? Don't bank on it.
Outlook: This line will fight and scrap … and come up short versus some of the league's feistier defensive lines. It's going to be a middling ensemble that puts a lot of emphasis on the outcome of question marks, such as Niemeyer's debut, Scott's position switch and Bruhin's health. After treading water in 2011, expect more of the same in 2012.
Unit Rating: 5
- 2012 Marshall Preview | 2012 Marshall Offense
- 2012 Marshall Defense | 2012 Marshall Depth Chart