2007 Marshall Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 12, 2007

Preview 2007 Marshall Thundering Herd Defense Preview


Marshall Thundering Herd

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Marshall Preview | 2007 Marshall Offense Preview  
- 2007 Marshall Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Marshall Preview 

What you need to know: Disgusted with the play of last year’s defense, head coach Mark Snyder changed course, hiring veteran Steve Dunlap as the coordinator.  While last year’s team sat back, and often paid for the conservative approach, the 2007 edition will attack wherever and whenever it makes sense.  The chief attacker will be junior end Albert McClellan, a sack machine that’ll be in the mix for just about every individual award given to defensive players.  At linebacker, junior Josh Johnson is good enough to consider early entry into the 2008 NFL Draft once the season concludes.  Dunlap’s biggest concerns in his first season on the job surround a pedestrian group of tackles and a beatable secondary that allowed way too many long gainers last season.  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: C.J. Spillman, 79
Sacks: Albert McClellan, 11.5
Interceptions: J.J. Johnson, C.J. Spillman, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Albert McClellan
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Montel Glasco
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Ashton Hall
Best pro prospect: McClellan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McClellan 2) Johnson 3) FS C.J. Spillman
Strength of the defense: McClellan, team speed
Weakness of the defense: The interior, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: In one monster season, junior end Albert McClellan went from a nice freshman prospect to a defensive force, terrorizing the rest of Conference USA for 77 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles.  Much more than just an edge rusher, he’s also stout against the run and one the program’s hardest workers outside the stadium. 

On the opposite side, the beneficiary of McClellan’s magnetism will be sophomore John Jacobs, who played in 12 games last year and had 17 tackles.  A high-motor guy at 6-3 and 240 pounds, it’s imperative that he wins some of the one-on-one battles he’ll see all season. 

Senior nose tackle Byron Tinker anchors a soft underbelly of the Marshall interior.  Although he can get bullied at times on running plays, his quickness off the snap accounted for an impressive eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last fall. 

Rounding out the front is junior Montel Glasco, a first-year transfer from Lackawanna (Penn.) Junior College, who was impressive stopping the run in April despite being just 6-3 and 280 pounds.

Projected Top Reserves: Although senior Ryland Wilson and junior Bilal El-Amin provide some upperclassmen experience at tackle, at 6-3 and around 250 pounds apiece, both are very vulnerable on straight-ahead run plays.

Although he felt the freshman could help right away, Mark Snyder resisted the temptation to remove the redshirt from end Michael Janac in 2006.  He’s big, fast and a few extra pounds of muscle away from being an integral part of the Marshall pass rush.   

Watch Out For… McClellan to be used all over the field in 2007.  New defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap wants to get the most of his star’s size-speed combo, while occasionally getting him to spots where he can’t be doubled.  McClellan’s numbers will benefit along with his NFL draft grade.
Strength: McClellan.  He’s bulked up to 245 pounds over the off-season, yet hasn’t lost any of the burst that made him virtually unblockable in October and November.  McClellan’s presence draws so much attention, it makes the job of the other ten Herd players a little easier.
Weakness: Size.  The two-deep averages only 6-3 and 250 pounds, making the defense vulnerable to physical offensive lines determined to run the ball right at the Herd.
Outlook: Although McClellan will be a tour de force for a second straight year, he’s going to need a lot more help from his fellow linemen if the unit is going to be more than just a one-man show.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Rock solid on the first team, Marshall now needs to begin developing some of the young, fast talent waiting in the on-deck circle.  The headliner of the group, junior Josh Johnson, debuted last year with 72 tackles in a sneak preview of bigger things to come in 2007.  A Georgia cast-off for disciplinary reasons, he’s big, physical and very quick going sideline-to-sideline.  As he begins to out grow his surroundings, the biggest challenge for Johnson this year will be to remain motivated and dedicated. 

Flanking Johnson on the outside will be last year’s starters, juniors Ian Hoskins and Maurice Kitchens.  At strongside, Hoskins is on his way back from knee surgery that ended his sophomore year after ten games.  Surprisingly athletic at 245 pounds, he forms an intimidating tandem with Johnson.  Long and lean at 6-3 and 225 pounds, Kitchens moves into the lineup after being a reserve in all but one game last year.  His closing speed will be a nice fit for a new defensive staff seeking to apply pressure and step up the aggressiveness.             

Projected Top Reserves: Until the freshmen arrive in August, the second team consists of three players, junior Mahala Wiggins, sophomore Daniel Wells and freshman Howard King, with no experience at this level.  Depth has become such a concern for the Herd, senior Will Albin, a converted fullback, has switched sides of the ball.  He actually played real well last spring, and will challenge for playing time when the season begins.    

Watch Out For… a very different depth chart in October than in July.  With talented freshmen, such as Antwan Booker and Mario Harvey, now eligible after sitting out last year, only Johnson’s job will be safe in 2007.
Strength: Johnson.  In a sea of uncertainty at linebacker, he’s an SEC talent playing against Conference USA competition.  After setting the table last year and trimming some fat in the off-season, Johnson is primed for a huge season.
Weakness: Depth.  There’s plenty of linebacker talent in Huntington, but most of it is very young and unlikely to make significant contributions this soon in their careers.
: Not unlike the defensive line, the linebackers have one budding star that’s surrounded by a bunch of question marks.  If everyone returns, this could be a scary good crew in 2008.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Marshall allowed 20 touchdown passes and more than 250 yards a game through the year, so the return of three starters isn’t exactly cause for celebration.  Sophomores Zearrick Matthews and Ashton Hall are back to patrol the corners.  Despite being only 5-9 and 162 pounds, Matthews proved to be quite a playmaker in his first season, making 43 tackles, breaking up six passes and tying for the team lead with four forced fumbles.  Although disruptive and physical, he needs to hone his pass coverage skills.  Hall has made a quantum leap since the end of his true freshman season, passing 12-game starter J.J. Johnson in the process.  While still learning in just his second year, he has the physical make-up and footwork to set the standard in the secondary before long. 

Junior free safety C.J. Spillman started nine games in 2006, finishing with 79 tackles and a pair of picks.  He’s terrific in the box, but like most of his teammates, needs to improve when the ball is in the air.  Replacing standout Curtis Keyes at strong safety will be Phillip Gamble, a hard-hitting junior that’s mainly played on special teams up until this year.  After looking sharp in the spring, the 217-pounder now needs to carry that momentum into the summer and fall.  

Projected Top Reserves: Johnson, a junior, has slipped behind Hall on the pecking order, but still has a key role in the secondary, likely as the nickel back where he excelled as a freshman two years ago.  Last season, he had 66 tackles and broke up ten passes, but too often was caught out of position. 

Pushing for time at safety will be junior Jon Moravec behind Gamble and sophomore John Saunders at free safety.  Moravec is a scrappy, 190-pound vet whose best work has come on punt and kick coverage.  A local walk-on, Saunders is a snot-knocker that’s still unpolished in his assignments and coverage skills.       

Watch Out For… the corners to live, and occasionally die, on an island this season.  New coordinator Steve Dunlap wants to bring the heat this season, which means plenty of man coverages for a secondary that still has some growing up to do.
: Run defense.  Not only do the safeties press up and support the run well, but the undersized cornerbacks can be surprisingly feisty tacklers in the open field.
Weakness: Pass coverage.  Last year’s numbers don’t lie; Marshall struggles to shut down good receivers and passing attacks.  The starting corners are young, still maturing and a poor match up with the game’s taller wideouts.
Outlook: Collectively, the secondary will be better than 2006, when the Herd finished 114th in the nation in pass defense.  However, the length of its stride will depend on how well the sophomore corners handle the pressure of performing with little or no safety net.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: If you have a strong leg and eligibility left, contact head coach Mark Snyder.  Junior punter Marty Biagi tore knee ligaments in the spring, meaning the Herd needs to find a new punter and a new holder for at least the early part of the season.  Enter Jake Fields, a true freshman who practiced this spring after spending last season prepping at Hargrave Military Academy.  The situation at kicker is nearly as unstable.  Senior Anthony Biswanger has plenty of leg strength, but was a nightmare in his first season out of Diablo Valley (Calif.) College.  He was just 5-of-13 on field goal attempts, while missing four extra points. 

The return men should be the same as last year, with juniors Emmanuel Spann and Chubb Small both spending time handling kickoffs and punts.  Had he fielded three more punts in 2006, Spann’s 12-yard average would have easily led Conference USA. 

Projected Top Reserves
: Unless Snyder can locate another punter on the fly, Biagi’s injury ensures that the Herd special teams unit will basically be performing without a net this season.  For better or worse, Biswanger is the kicker and Fields is the punter.                    

Watch Out For… the development of Biswanger in his final season.  The raw ability and experience are there; however, he needs to conquer the mental side of things by completely setting aside last year’s debacle and starting over.
Strength: Spann.  More than just the program’s most consistent returner, Spann will also be supplanting Biagi as the holder on field goals and extra points.
Weakness: Placekicking.  Marshall is inconsistent across the board on special teams, but Biswanger’s erratic play is simply intolerable for an up-and-down offense that was held to ten or fewer points four times in 2006.
Outlook: This is a messy situation that could cost the Herd a game or two, and subsequently a shot at the post-season, if Biswanger and Fields can’t suddenly morph into reliable spokes in the special teams wheel.             
Rating: 4.5


Related Stories
Preview 2007 - Marshall Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 11, 2007
2007 Marshall Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 11, 2007
2007 Marshall Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 11, 2007

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