2013 Marshall Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: All eyes will be on well-traveled coordinator Chuck Heater, who was hired by longtime friend Doc Holliday to fix the defense. The West Virginia native inherits a D that gave up more points per game in 2012 than all but one school, Colorado. The encouraging thing about the Herd is that it's not without talent, despite the porous results. Holliday has recruited well, plucking a number of players from junior colleges and name-brand FBS programs. Heater plans to mix up his looks, using man coverage to stop the run on early downs and zone-blitzes if he can force the other guys into third-and-long. Marshall pretty much needs help everywhere, but it was especially feeble against the pass last fall. Reversing trends must be a collaborative effort that involves more pressure up front from ends Jeremiah Taylor and Alex Bazzie, and a few more tipped passes out of corners Derrick Thomas and Darryl Roberts. The Herd can win shootouts. It just prefers not to have to every weekend.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Jeremiah Taylor
Tackles: D.J. Hunter, 102
Sacks: Jeremiah Taylor, 5.5
Interceptions: Monterius Lovett, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Darryl Roberts
Unsung star on the rise: True freshman LB Stefan Houston
Best pro prospect: Sophomore SS D.J. Hunter
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Taylor, 2) Junior LB Jermaine Holmes, 3) Hunter
Strength of the defense: Veteran D-line, speed and athleticism, depth
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, linebackers, pass defense, takeaways, third-down stops, red-zone D
Although the Herd didn't lose a single member of the D-line rotation, there are no guarantees that this group will do a better job of rushing the passer or clogging running lanes. Senior Alex Bazzie will be looking to build on his most successful season, which ended with honorable mention All-Conference USA designation. The 6-2, 225-pound try-hard edge rusher has put in the time to get to this point, clearing numerous hurdles along the way. While not the most gifted athlete up front, Bazzie employed a high football IQ and an indomitable will to succeed to lead all linemen with 80 tackles, including nine stops for loss, two sacks and eight hurries.
Flanking Bazzie on the opposite side will be 6-4, 259-pound senior Jeremiah Taylor, one of the leaders of the defense. Voted team captain in 2012, he's one of the respected leaders of the program, both on and off the field. Taylor brings much better size to the position than Bazzie, yet gives up nothing in terms of pressure and pass rushing. Yet another of the team's productive former walk-ons, he has shown a consistent ability to penetrate the pocket, making 54 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss and a Herd-high 5.5 sacks last year.
Arguably the most valuable of the Marshall linemen is NT Brandon Sparrow, a penetrator from the interior. Despite being a squat 6-3, 295-pounder, the senior slides well and can beat his man off the snap. Like Bazzie an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection, Sparrow tallied 52 tackles, 8.5 stops behind the line, five sacks and eight quarterback hurries in 2012. Even more production and disruption is expected out of No. 96 this year.
Sophomore Jarquez Samuel has been one of the surprises of the offseason, taking—and holding—a lead at defensive tackle. The 6-5, 275-pound three-star recruit from 2011 has the athleticism to play outside, yet is strong enough to line up on the interior. He came off the bench in 11 games, making nine stops and a sack.
Bazzie's backup at defensive end will be 6-4, 240-pound junior Ra'Shawde Myers, who started one game and had 16 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and three quarterback hurries last year. He's bulked up in the offseason, yet remains one of the program's situational speed rushers. The Herd is deeper on the inside, especially if everyone stays healthy. That's been an issue for 6-5, 267-pound senior James Rouse, who missed 2012 and has had a history of injury problems. He can play multiple positions, and is currently backing up Sparrow. Sophomore Steve Dillon is challenging Samuel at tackle. The 6-3, 266-pound one-time USC recruit made six tackles, a sack and two pass breakups in last year's debut.
Watch Out For … Rouse's health. The senior changed his number during the offseason in the hopes that his luck will change as well. He's dealt with a back and an Achilles injury that have kept him off the field for almost two years. But he's more than just a talented lineman. He's a leader, someone the program hopes to have in the huddle this fall.
Strength: Getting a push. Bazzie, Taylor and Sparrow all showed flashes last year of being able to get off the snap quickly, and getting into opposing backfields. The trio combined for 26.5 tackles for loss in 2012, now needing to turn a few more of those bursts through the line into sacks.
Weakness: Run defense. It's a shared responsibility with the linebackers, but the line failed to carry its weight in run defense last season. Too often, the Thundering Herd got dominated at the point of attack, finishing 104th in the country, while allowing more than 4.6 yards per carry.
Outlook: Marshall has no individual star, but it does house a lot of veterans, all of whom are looking to raise the level of their games this fall. They'll have to in order to reverse last year's trend of getting routinely beat at the point of attack. If the Herd can collaborate on overall improvement, inside and outside, marginally better results are attainable in 2013.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Junior Jermaine Holmes took over middle linebacker last fall, and showed signs of progress. Still a little green and vulnerable to getting beat over the top in pass coverage, the 5-11, 248-pound used a good motor and excellent strength to lead all Herd linebackers with 82 tackles, 13.5 of which were behind the line. There was an ongoing learning curve for No. 46, especially at such an important position on the field. Yet, with a year of experience in the vault, Holmes is banking on being even more effective in his third year.
The weakside position likely belongs to senior Billy Mitchell. The 6-3, 235-pound former tight end has made a nice transition to defense, starting five of the six games he appeared in last year. His toughness and range led to 34 tackles and a pick, including a career-high 13 stops versus Memphis.
The Herd might wind up going with a rookie at strongside, 6-3, 220-pound Stefan Houston. The true freshman from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy was further along than the coaching staff expected in the spring. He's very athletic and strong, and will get even stronger once he can add 10-15 more pounds in the weight room.
If the staff opts to go with a veteran at strongside, 6-1, 204-pound senior Derek Mitchell would be a viable option. While he clearly lacks the size and the long-term potential of Houston, he has been in the program for four years, making 38 career tackles in 37 games. Junior Cortez Carter is around to provide experience off the bench from the middle. The 5-11, 224-pounder made 36 tackles in 2012, despite not starting a game.
Watch Out For … the potential of 6-3, 238-pound redshirt freshman Kent Turene at weakside. The former commit of Georgia—and three-star gem—signed with Marshall in 2012, but missed last season as an academic non-qualifier. He's now eligible and ready to make a concerted push to displace Mitchell from his perch atop weakside.
Strength: Athleticism and range. Above all else, these Thundering Herd linebackers are going to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Collectively, they move like safeties, yet 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: Toughness against the run. While the linebackers play with the right work ethic and hustle, too often they're pushovers against the run. This is not a big or particularly physical group, which means that tougher opponents can run right at it in north-south fashion without much pushback.
Outlook: Marshall likes its athletes on the second level, but more production is needed across the board. Holmes will again be the front man for the group, hustling his way to another year as one of the defensive leaders. However, the ceiling here could be dictated by the rookies. Houston and Turene are cornerstone-type performers who need to perform like it as quickly as possible.
Unit Rating: 5
The Thundering Herd participated in plenty of shootouts last season. QB Rakeem Cato was one reason. A Marshall secondary that yielded 30 touchdown passes and picked off just nine throws was the other. Help could come from sophomore SS D.J. Hunter, who temporarily switched to linebacker in 2012, but will now help offset the graduations of Dominick Legrande and Okechukwu Okoroha. Hunter overcame youth and limited size, 6-0 and 207 pounds, to make 102 stops in his debut. The one-time Tennessee signee has all of the physical tools to quickly become one of the tone-setters on defense in Huntington.
The leader for the free safety job held by Okoroha is sophomore Taj Letman. The 6-3, 183-pound transfer from Holmes (Miss.) Community College missed the 2012 season with a finger injury and will have three years of eligibility remaining. Had Letman not been hurt last year, there was a high chance he'd have been gobbled up by a larger program.
While Hunter and Letman are in great shape atop the depth chart, 5-11, 191-pound redshirt freshman A.J. Leggett ought not to be overlooked. The Miami native was a coveted recruit, with offers from Florida State, Miami, Nebraska, Ohio State and Tennessee. A shoulder injury kept the strong safety off the field, but he's healthy again and ready to challenge for reps.
The Herd has some heavy lifting to do at cornerback. Former Penn State defender Derrick Thomas returns for his second year after starting eight of last season's final nine games in Huntington. He had 53 tackles, an interception and four pass breakups, but was a little too soft in coverage.
At the other spot, 5-11, 175-pound junior Darryl Roberts has played his way into a starting role this offseason. He was headed toward the same role at this time last year, but broke his ankle in the summer and never played a down. Roberts' aggressiveness in pass defense and experience were missed by a secondary that was down on numbers in 2012.
The injury to Roberts created openings for 5-11, 169-pound senior Monterius Lovett and 5-11, 190-pound junior Keith Baxter to start seven and nine games, respectively. Those experiences will serve the defensive backfield well this season. Lovett plays the game very fast, very passionately and with a level of intensity that ensures he's rarely far from the ball. In 2012, he made 25 tackles, two picks and six pass breakups. Baxter is the bigger hitter of the two backups, chipping in 33 stops and six pass breakups of his own.
Watch Out For … Leggett to be difficult to keep off the field. He's an elite athlete, who is just itching to hit someone after being forced to sit out all of last season. He didn't choose Marshall over some of the nation's top-tier programs to wait his turn from the bench, and he'll practice accordingly in the summer.
Strength: Athletes. The defensive backfield is littered with quality athletes, many of whom had opportunities to continue playing at BCS conference programs. The cornerbacks and safeties are unpolished, yes, but they have the base physical ability to be molded into something more than they are right now.
Weakness: Coverage softness. This group was easy pickings for opposing quarterbacks in 2012, allowing at least three touchdown passes in six different games, while finishing 87th nationally in interceptions. The touchdown-to-pick ratio of more than 3:1 is something that absolutely has to improve this season.
Outlook: There's raw talent here. But it's up to the coaching staff to bring it out before the Aug. 31 opener with Miami U. The Herd should be a little stingier against the pass now that Roberts and Leggett are healthy, and Thomas is in his second year with the program. Marshall will still be vulnerable over the top, but not quite as much as it was in 2012.
Unit Rating: 5
The Thundering Herd is settled on special teams, with the return of both of last year's specialists. Junior PK Justin Haig was surprisingly in his first full year on the job, nailing 13-of-16 field goals and all of his 60 extra point attempts. The honorable mention All-Conference USA pick has modest leg strength, as evidence by his 57.3-yard average on kickoffs.
Sophomore Tyler Williams enjoyed a rather auspicious debut as the program's punter. He averaged 45.2 yards an attempt, which would have placed him No. 2 in the league and No. 9 nationally had he punted enough times to qualify.
With the graduation of Andre Snipes-Booker, the staff is looking for a new punt returner and kick returner. Sophomore Kevin Grooms and senior Tommy Shuler are schedule to handle kickoffs and punts, respectively.
Watch Out For … Williams to not get enough recognition … again. The 6-0, 188-pounder from Fort Wayne, Ind. exceeded expectations in 2012, but few knew it since he was used so sparingly. In fact, only 14 FBS schools punted the ball fewer times than the Thundering Herd did last season.
Strength: The legs. In Haig and Williams, the Herd appears to have a pair of capable specialists who'll start for three and four years, respectively. The pair is reliable, if not spectacular, which will be enough to provide support to both sides of the ball.
Weakness: The coverage teams. The Herd just didn't do many of the little things well last year, from a couple of blocked punts to some of the worst tackling on special teams in the country. Marshall allowed as many touchdowns, four, as any team in America, including three on kickoff returns.
Outlook: Marshall did a very nice job of developing its young punters and kickers last season, which is going to pay dividends in 2013 and beyond. However, it has to plug the gaps that yielded so many costly returns a year ago. Oh, and Snipes-Booker was an occasional threat that needs to be replaced by Grooms and Shuler.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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2013 Marshall Defense |
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