Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Marshall Preview |
2008 Marshall Offense
2008 Marshall Depth
2007 CFN Marshall Preview |
need to know:
First-year coordinator Rick Minter is implementing an aggressive
defense that’ll make good use of Marshall’s depth and
athleticism at linebacker by frequently lining up in a 3-4 set.
In a conference that’s become increasingly reliant on the pass,
Minter can take solace in inheriting eight defensive backs with
starting experience, including leading tackler C.J. Spillman. As
seasoned as the group is, it’s also quite beatable, which is why
a player like redshirt freshman CB DeQuan Bembry could knock a
vet out of the starting lineup. DE Albert McClellan is the type
of edge rusher who’s going to make everyone around him more
effective. Before getting injured last season, he was the 2006
Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, racking up 19
tackles for loss and 11 sacks.
C.J. Spillman, 131
Maurice Kitchens, 4
Interceptions: Maurice Kitchens, John Saunders, 1
of the defense:
Senior FS C.J. Spillman
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman CB DeQuan
Best pro prospect: Spillman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Spillman 2) Junior DE
Albert McClellan 3) Senior LB Maurice Kitchens
Strength of the defense: The defensive ends, athletic
Weakness of the defense: The interior of the line, pass
defense, run defense
Projected Starters: Marshall never recovered from
the season-ending ACL injury of 6-2, 259-pound Albert
McClellan, finishing last in the league in sacks and tackles
for loss. Well, he’s back for his junior year, looking to
recapture the pass-rushing form that led to Conference USA
Defensive Player of the year honors in 2006. When healthy, he’s
a terror coming around the edge, racking up 19 tackles for loss
and 11 sacks in a breakthrough junior season.
Senior Ian Hoskins has the edge at the other end
position, poised to add a fourth letter to his Marshall resume.
A 6-2, 256-pound grinder, he earned nine starts a year ago,
making 38 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. With
McClellan expected to get a mess of attention, it’s vital for
Hoskins to make opponents pay for not respecting him.
The onus of replacing last year’s starting tackles falls on 6-5,
289-pound sophomore Johnny Jones and 6-1, 311-pound
junior James Burkes. Jones earned a letter and a start as
a true freshman, picking up six tackles and laying the
groundwork for a promotion. He’s got the size and quickness to
be a factor once picks up some much-needed game experience.
When injuries struck the line, Burkes was thrust into a more
prominent role, starting eight games and making 22 tackles. A
former walk-on with limited upside potential, he can’t be
counted on to be a consistent factor in the leaky run defense.
Projected Top Reserves: On the outside, the Herd
has a fair amount of experience in 6-3, 253-pound junior John
Jacobs and 6-4, 271-pound sophomore Michael Janac.
Jacobs has lettered in each of the last two seasons, breaking
through with 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks
in an injury-shortened season. A tireless worker coming off a
solid spring, he still has time to earn a spot in the starting
Janac is one of the cornerstones of the future on the defensive
line. Big and cat-quick, he made a splash in his first action,
starting three games and contributing 37 tackles and four
tackles for loss. Like Jacobs, he’s one big summer away from
bumping Hoskins to the second team.
The Herd needs 6-3, 290-pound senior Montel Glasco to get
healthy and make a run at a starting job. He started the first
three games of 2007, making 13 tackles and impressing as a run
stuffer, but injured his knee and never returned. Now, he’s torn
his rotator cuff in offseason training and will miss at least
the first two games.
Watch Out For … McClellan’s health. He makes
everyone on the defense better, but only if he can cut and
explode without any pain in his surgically-repaired knee. He was
limited to light work in the spring, but is expected to be
completely cleared for contact before the opener.
Strength: The ends. With the return of McClellan,
Marshall now has four defensive ends with starting experience in
their careers. If he’s at full strength, Hoskins, Jacobs, and
Janac all have the drive and talent to make life miserable for
Weakness: Run defense. If you thought allowing 191
yards a game on the ground was bad last year, just wait until
this season. Herd fans are going to long for last year’s
results. The D is in dire straits at defensive tackle, a
situation that reached a tipping point when Glasco returned to
the injury list.
Outlook: If McClellan is about to reprise his role
as Conference USA’s nastiest pass rusher, the ripple effect will
reach every level of the defense. No matter how disruptive he
is, however, it won’t solve the unavoidable problems with the
run defense. Opponents that commit to the run are going to get
little resistance from a defense that’s woefully understaffed on
Projected Starters: Senior middle man Maurice
Kitchens is determined to prove last year’s breakthrough
first season as a regular was no fluke. He unexpectedly
blossomed into a dynamite defender and a team leader, racking up
90 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. Well-sized at
6-3 and 247 pounds, he also has the range and closing speed to
be a factor on the blitz.
At weakside will be 6-0, 252-pound junior Mario Harvey,
who’s about to get a promotion after starting in three games and
making 53 stops a year ago. A rugged run defender with a solid
base, he’s able to shed larger blockers and still make a play. A
top recruit a couple of years ago, he’s ready to fulfill
expectations and be an impact player for the defense.
Although he played sparingly in his first season, 6-2, 223-pound
sophomore Corey Hart is making a concerted effort for the
opening at strongside. An outstanding all-around athlete, he’ll
need to keep progressing in the summer in order to hold on to
the top spot.
Projected Top Reserves: The eventual successor
to Kitchens on the inside will be 6-1, 255-pound junior
Antawn Booker, who played in eight games, made 17 stops, and
earned his first letter a year ago. Downright nasty at the point
of impact, he hits with the ferocity that creates turnovers.
The Herd also has high hopes for 6-3, 224-pound redshirt
freshman Kellen Harris, who can play either outside
positions. A former wrestling champ in high school, he uses his
hands well and spent last season getting bigger, stronger, and
faster. On a defense that wants to attack, he has the requisite
athleticism to fit right in.
Watch Out For … Junior college transfer Andre
Portis. One of the top JUCO transfers at the position, he
has the 6-3, 240-pound size and experience to be an immediate
factor on the inside for a unit looking for capable run
defenders. He’s currently buried on the depth chart, but that
isn’t going to last through the summer.
Strength: Size. Unlike many Conference USA
defenses, which feature safety-sized linebackers, the Herd
boasts a unit that’s loaded with defenders big enough to take on
hard-charging guards and tackles.
Weakness: Depth. The program is getting there,
thanks to decent recruiting, but after Kitchens and Harvey,
there’s a lot of youth and uncertainty for a defense aiming to
use more 3-4 sets.
Outlook: Physically, this is a quality group of
linebackers with the athletic ability to make plays all over the
field. However, until the holdovers get more consistent support
from the likes of Hart, Booker, and Harris, there will be lapses
in pass coverage and the occasional missed assignments.
Projected Starters: Marshall has a ton of issues
to contend with in the secondary. Senior FS C.J. Spillman
isn’t one of them. He was one of the few bright spots on last
year’s defense, posting a team-high 131 tackles, 2.5 tackles for
loss, six pass breakups, and three forced fumbles en route to
the All-Conference USA Second Team. A big hitter who can cover,
the 6-0, 193-pounder has captured the attention of NFL scouts.
At strong safety, 5-10, 197-pound junior Ashton Hall is
eyeing a big season in his second as a starter. As a seven-game
starter, he finished fourth on the team with 66 stops, 2.5 of
which were behind the line. He possesses the right blend of
agility and physicality, but needs to improve as a pass
While the Herd is in good shape at safety, the same cannot be
said of the cornerbacks. Already a concern, the situation
worsened after senior J.J. Johnson, a potential starter, was
booted from the team. For the time being, the opening will be
filled by 6-2, 185-pound sophomore D.J. Wingate, who
started the final three games of his true freshman year,
finishing with 22 tackles and four pass breakups. While still
raw, he has the size and hips to develop into a good one over
Marshall could also go with youth at the other corner, provided
5-10, 174-pound redshirt freshman DeQuan Bembry is ready
to win the job. Tougher and more physical than his size might
indicate, he also has the speed, quickness, and fluid hips
inherent to all top cornerbacks. The sky is the limit once the
program breaks the seal on its prized recruit of 2007.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Zearick Matthews
is in a dogfight with Bembry and Wingate for one of the
cornerback jobs. While the 5-9, 186-pounder doesn’t have the
upside of the underclassmen, he does have far more experience
and a penchant for being a playmaker.
Senior John Saunders is exactly the type of player a
defense likes having on the second team. A two-time letterwinner
and five-game starter at strong safety in 2007, he was third on
the team with 68 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. He packs a
punch at 6-0 and 192 pounds, and has keen instincts as a run
Watch Out For … Bembry. Beyond just the physical
attributes, he’s got something special that separates him from
the rest of the Herd. He’ll get burned at times, but he’ll also
make the kind of big plays this unit has lacked for years.
Strength: Experience. Although it hasn’t always
been positive experience, Marshall is loaded with
defensive backs that’ve started games and played important
minutes during their careers. Unlike last year, the two-deep is
nowhere near as green as the team colors.
Weakness: Pass coverage. From picking off a
nation’s-low four passes to allowing 260 yards a game, Marshall
did nothing right in pass defense a year ago. Until a lockdown
corner or two emerges, the Herd will continue to provide east
access to opposing quarterbacks.
Outlook: Marshall has finished 100th or
lower in pass defense in each of the last two seasons, a trend
that should continue. Hope can be found in the young pups, such
as Bembry and Wingate, but true progress will only come if the
defense gets substantially more support up front. When
quarterbacks have too much time to throw, the Herd simply
doesn’t have the stoppers to contain quality receivers.
Projected Starters: The graduation of unreliable
Anthony Biswanger leaves the Herd looking for a new placekicker
and punter. No one in Huntington is shedding a tear. The new
kicker is likely to be junior Craig Ratanamorn, a junior
college transfer, who doubles as the goalie on the Herd soccer
team. While leg strength isn’t an issue, his accuracy and
ability to deliver in the clutch are complete unknowns.
While Ratanamorn would also like to punt, he’s currently running
behind sophomore Cody Ochoa and redshirt freshman
Calvin Purchase. Ochoa is the man to beat for now, proving
to be better at directional punts than pure distance and hang
The return game is in the good hands of senior Emmanuel Spann
and sophomore Darius Marshall. Spann was the primary
return on punts and kickoffs, averaging 10.2 and 19.5 yards,
respectively. While he’s the steady option, Marshall provides
breakaway potential on kickoffs, averaging almost 30 yards in
his first season. Redshirt freshman DeQuan Bembry is to
punts what Marshall is to kickoffs, showing an ability to hit a
seam and go the distance.
Watch Out For… incoming freshman P Kase
Whitehead. One of the nation’s top punters coming out of
high school, he wasn’t awarded a scholarship to watch a gaggle
of walk-ons struggle at the position. If he’s ready, he’ll win
the job in August.
Strength: The return game. Spann is a versatile
special teams performer who doesn’t make mistakes and
contributes in a number of areas. Marshall and Bembry are
playmakers capable of changing the tempo of a game in less than
Weakness: The situation at kicker. Ratanamorn has
a fun story, but will he deliver when the Herd needs a
three-pointer late in the fourth quarter?
Outlook: For the second straight year, uncertainty
rules the day on special teams. The punter is new, the kicker is
a soccer player, and the coverage units are below average. If
nothing else, Marshall needs Whitehead to capture the job right
away, giving some much-needed field position support to the