2013 Marshall Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: If Marshall misses its mark as a team in 2013, blame will not fall at the feet of the offense. Bill Legg's system found its groove last fall, finishing sixth nationally in total offense, seventh in scoring and first in passing. With Rakeem Cato at the controls, the Herd thundered to more than 500 yards and 40 points a game, displaying balance and potency. Cato is the clear-cut triggerman, a deft distributor in the wide-open attack, but Marshall also features a trio of playmaking backs, Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson. The opposition will struggle to defend all of the weapons that will be spread out around the field. If Cato has a wish list for his junior year, it would surely include better protection and a few more reliable targets now that Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson are on NFL rosters. WR Tommy Shuler and TE Gator Hoskins are dynamite, but it'd help if sophomore Davonte Allen and Penn State transfer Devon Smith can absorb some heat from the go-to guys.
Star of the offense: Junior QB Rakeem Cato
Passing: Rakeem Cato
406-584, 4,201 yds, 37 TDs, 11 INTs
Rushing: Kevin Grooms
121 carries, 737 yds, 8 TDs
Receiving: Tommy Shuler
110 catches, 1,138 yds, 6 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LT Jordan Jeffries
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Davonte Allen
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Gator Hoskins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Cato, 2) Junior WR Tommy Shuler, 3) Hoskins
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, the passing game, backfield depth, tight end, balance, third-down conversions, red-zone conversions
Weakness of the offense: The O-line, depth at wide receiver
A full decade after Byron Leftwich was drafted into the NFL, Marshall finally houses a quarterback who can strike fear into opposing defenses. Junior Rakeem Cato went from productive to downright prolific in 2012, earning a spot on the All-Conference USA First Team. The 6-0, 184-pound record-setter completed 406-of-584 passes for 4,201 yards, 37 touchdowns and only 11 picks. Forget the fact that he lacks prototypical size for the position. Cato is a playmaker, with no shortage of confidence in his skill set. He has great feet, allowing him to prolong plays in the pocket, places throws where only his receiver can catch them and is deadly accurate on the move. He won't follow Leftwich or Chad Pennington into the first round of the NFL Draft, but he will pass them in the school record books two years from now.
Cato will again be backed up by 6-6, 230-pound sophomore Blake Frohnapfel. The former two-star recruit is a prototypical pocket passer, with a strong arm. He acquitted himself rather well when pressed into action in the regular season finale, going 12-of-15 for 101 yards, a touchdown and a pick, while rushing for another 62 yards and a score.
Watch Out For … more scrambling. Cato is a pass-first quarterback, and he's been vocal about that point since he arrived from Miami. However, he's noticed something on film this offseason—lots of room to roam when his receivers are covered. He'll look to exploit those openings with his feet, which could be doubly difficult for defenses to defend.
Strength: Accuracy and decision-making. Cato doesn't make many mistakes, and he's only at the midpoint of his Marshall career. You want accurate? How about completing 69.5% of his passes, which ranked No. 4 in the country a year ago? Plus, the Herd was picked off just once every 50 passing attempts.
Weakness: Size. Cato is barely 6-0, which presents problems against big and physical defensive lines that can obstruct his field of vision. Oh, and he's had to work his way up to 184 pounds, which is far less than ideal for a quarterback planning to leave the pocket a little more this season.
Outlook: Marshall needed Cato to take the next step forward in his maturation, which is exactly what he did in 2012. With similar progress this fall, he'll keep the Herd atop the nation in passing offense, while expanding his brand to a national audience. He has the system down to a science, and is poised to once again amass monster numbers at the expense of overmatched Conference USA defenses.
Unit Rating: 7.5
In just his first season of action, sophomore Kevin Grooms brought some order to the muddled mess of backs vying for touches a year ago. The 5-10, 168-pound former Miami commit is going to need to bulk up over time, but has the blazing jets and the sharp cuts to simply blow past defenders taking poor angles in the open field. Grooms showed flashes of becoming yet another dynamite weapon in the Thundering Herd attack in 2012, scooting for a team-high 737 yards and eight touchdowns on 121 carries.
The battle for the backup job is an intriguing one because both contenders has their moments last season. Sophomores Steward Butler and Remi Watson showed signs that they're capable of carrying the load if asked. The 5-9, 173-pound Butler didn't start a game, yet was second on the team with 500 yards and three scores on 101 carries. He originally committed to Arizona State, showcasing the nifty moves, balance and straight-line speed to frustrate opposing defenses. At 5-11 and 198 pounds, Watson is the biggest and strongest member of the trio, the back Marshall likes to use in short-yardage situations. The four-game starter in 2012 turned his 79 carries into 380 yards and seven touchdowns.
Watch Out For … the backs to get more opportunities as pass-catchers. The Herd threw the ball more than every team except Washington State in 2012, yet the running backs were surprisingly absent in the passing game. The skill sets of Grooms and Butler are perfectly suited for dump-offs and screens that allow them to make people miss in the open field.
Strength: Depth of talent. Marshall liberally employed three freshmen in 2012, and, boy, did it pay off. The trio looked very comfortable spearheading the ground game, combining for 1,617 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. It goes to figure that each of the three backs will be even more effective now that they're no longer rookies.
Weakness: Consistency. Grooms, Butler and Watson still need to work on the little things, those facets of the game that don't often show up in a box score. Navigating the hole quickly and picking up the blitz on passing downs, for instance, are areas that each of the backs needs to work on between now and the opener.
Outlook: The backfield is going to be a hidden gem in Huntington, but not for much longer. Yeah, the Herd likes to air it out on offense, but it also finished fourth in Conference USA rushing, while averaging more than four yards a carry. Grooms, Butler and Watson are going to exploit those defenses that commit this fall to slowing down QB Rakeem Cato and the passing game.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The Herd is going to need a few new wide receivers to emerge as complements, but the base of talent is sound entering 2013. Junior Tommy Shuler began last season as a complete unknown, but ended it as one of the busiest wide receivers in the county. Forming a unique bond with QB Rakeem Cato, his one-time high school teammate, he caught 110 passes for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns. Shuler leveraged his diminutive 5-8, 190-pound frame to get lost in the soft areas of opposing defenses. He's a Wes Welker-like weapon out of the slot, taking short tosses and turning them into first downs. Shuler is too quick to neutralize in man coverage, and offsets a small catch radius with terrific hands.
Sophomore Davonte Allen served as Aaron Dobson's understudy last year. This fall, he replaces the second-round pick of the New England Patriots. The 6-2, 194-pounder from Florida possesses the size-speed combo to be an effective deep-ball threat on the outside for Cato. In nine games off the bench last year, he caught a dozen balls for 190 yards and two scores.
The most experienced member of the receiving corps will be senior Demetrius Evans, a three-game starter a season ago. The 5-11, 197-pounder finished fifth on the team with 32 grabs for 284 yards and two touchdowns. He's never been one to snap off a flurry of long-gainers, doing most of his work on intermediate routes.
In Huntington, they call Gator Hoskins a tight end. On Sundays, he'll be referred to as an H-back. The senior is tailor-made for the next level, a sure-handed all-around athlete at 6-2 and 242 pounds. He emerged into a dangerous target, especially near the end zone, catching 35 balls for 374 yards and 10 touchdowns, a school record for a tight end. Looking like current Miami Dolphin Dustin Keller, Hoskins is tough to drag down, yet can also out run many defensive backs to pay dirt. As former high school quarterbacks go, he's made a seamless transition to an entirely new position.
The future at tight end belongs to 6-6, 227-pound sophomore Eric Frohnapfel, whose twin brother, Blake, is the backup quarterback. He showed nice potential as a pass-catcher last year, coming off the bench to make 13 grabs for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He's a can't-miss target who'll be ready to own this job in 2014.
A pair of seniors and Penn State transfers, 5-7, 150-pound Devon Smith and 6-1, 191-pound Shawney Kersey will add depth from the B team. Smith is a jackrabbit, a burner who'll be behind Shuler in the slot. He played extensively in Happy Valley, making 52 catches over the last two seasons, and could put up big numbers in this attack. Kersey, on the other hand, struggled to find meaningful playing time with the Nittany Lions, though did start the first two games of 2012 before deciding to leave for personal reasons.
Watch Out For … the fate of mega-recruit Angelo Jean-Louis. The four-star gem had committed to Miami, and had his choice of top-shelf programs making offers. However, it now looks as if he might be busy fighting a legal battle this fall after being arrested in April for using a stolen credit card. He was also having academic issues, further decreasing the likelihood he'll suit up in September.
Strength: Receivers on the inside. With Shuler working out of the slot and Hoskins at tight end, the Thundering Herd is going to be lethal on the underneath stuff. The sophomore and the senior are two very different pass-catchers, but both are going to cause all kinds of problems for opposing linebackers.
Weakness: Outside receivers. Losing Dobson and Antavious Wilson to graduation are big blows to the passing game. Sure, Allen has an exciting future, and Evans has been around, but neither player is going to offset the big-play production of the departing seniors. And the likely absence of Jean-Louis will go down as a lost opportunity for the program.
Outlook: The receivers will probably take a step backwards in 2013, but not as far back as many would think. Shuler and Hoskins are all-stars, the reliable favorite targets of Cato. Plus, Allen is a player on the rise, and the Penn State imports will help boost depth. There won't be a star the caliber of Dobson, but there'll be plenty of clutch plays that come from this unit in the fall.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The O-line has plenty of work to do during the offseason, particularly in pass protection, but it also has a lot of veterans on hand to help initiate forward progress. In fact, of the eight blockers who started a game last fall, seven are back. The anchor on the left side, T Jordan Jeffries is determined to build on his first year in the lineup after earning honorable mention All-Conference USA. At 6-8 and 322 pounds, he has the right size for the position, but needs to perfect his technique, and work on his flexibility in order to cut down on the number of times QB Rakeem Cato must flee the pocket.
The program is set at center, where 6-4, 290-pound junior Chris Jasperse is halfway to becoming a four-year starter with the Herd. The self-made, hard-working former walk-on started every game in 2012, briefly sliding over to right guard in November when injuries forced some shifting. While neither error-free nor dominant, Jasperse did achieve a level of consistency last year to be recognized as an honorable mention All-Conference USA performer.
Senior Garrett Scott is entrenched at right tackle, where he started intermittently in 2012. The 6-5, 295-pounder has shown tremendous versatility and athletic ability throughout his Marshall career, starting the 2011 season at left guard before making the move outside to help the program's pass protection.
The anchor at guard will be 6-6, 307-pound senior Alex Schooler on the right side. He's coming off his most productive season with the Herd, serving as a part-time starter on both sides of the line. Schooler is big and strong, allowing him to shove back opposing linemen, especially on running plays.
The newest member of the starting lineup will be sophomore Sebastian Johansson. The 6-5, 282-pound native of Sweden has played well enough this offseason to take the lead over older teammates at left guard. He still has plenty to learn, but the base of upper body strength and agility are in place for him to be successful.
The Herd is going to be experienced on the second unit. The veteran among the tackles will be 6-6, 294-pound senior Gage Niemeyer, a second-year transfer from Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) College. He's raw, but did start five games in 2012 to provide a base on which to build. The most seasoned guard off the bench is 6-6, 310-pound junior Josh Lovell. Yet another powerful run blocker in Huntington, he split time with Schooler in the lineup last season.
Watch Out For … Scott to contend for All-Conference USA honors in 2013. Although he's taken a while to get to this point in his career, the staff has been impressed by its senior's development this offseason. Scott's physical ability has never been a question mark, and now he has the reps to go along with the measurables.
Strength: A no-nonsense work ethic. The Thundering Herd offensive line will be a physical, blue-collar unit 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 300 pounds, and giving away little in terms of overall strength.
Weakness: Pass protection. Sure, the Herd threw the ball more than most teams did in 2012, but 29 sacks allowed is still a few more than the coaching staff could tolerate. Plus, there were numerous other times when the line was spared additional sacks by the quick feet and elusiveness of QB Rakeem Cato.
Outlook: Not elite, but not too shabby either. The Marshall blockers have played a lot of football in Huntington, which is going to pay off this season. Six of the seven players in the rotation have started games, meaning there's a nice comfort level within the offense. This unit will win the battles when run blocking, but it still needs to improve in pass pro.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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2013 Marshall Defense |
Marshall Depth Chart