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Chuck Landon: Marshall defense motivated to improve

Mar. 31, 2013 @ 12:04 AM

The Herd's defense played like a bunch of buffalo chips last football season.

Everyone agrees on that.

But now?

Well, a different kind of chip was evident during Marshall's first week of spring practice at Edwards Stadium. For a welcome change, this chip was located on the Herd's shoulder pads instead of their shoes.

"Yes, for sure," said senior defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow. "We've all got a chip. We had a meeting after the season last year and we felt like we let everybody down. We've got new guys, new coaches and we're planning to make up for last year.

"Everybody is here to prove a point this year. We're going to be good. We're going to be good enough to contend with the bigger teams. We're going to win games."

That attitude is particularly noticeable among the 14 seniors on defense.

"We've got a bunch of seniors," said Sparrow, "so we all just want to go out the right way. I mean, every senior wants to go out the right way, but I feel like we all really want to do it and it's going to happen."

After the defense's embarrassing performances last season, it certainly needs to happen.

I'm not intentionally trying to ruin anyone's Easter Sunday, but it bears repeating that Marshall's defense ranked No. 119 (next to last) in scoring defense (43.1 points per game) and No. 101 in total defense (456.8 yards allowed per game).

"It was like a perfect storm," said new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, after viewing videotape of all 12 games last season. "We did struggle for a lot of reasons, some of which they didn't have a lot of control over. If you have pride and you're a competitor, you are not going to like that."

That's why Heater was happy to hear about Sparrow's comments.

"I like the guys feeling that way," said Heater. "The best defenses I have been around, there always has been some cause to make them play with that chip on their shoulder. I think you need an edge in any competitive situation."

And if that edge, that chip on the shoulder is a result of the defense's disastrous performances in 2012. ... well, at least something good came of it.

"I think that's maybe the only positive that comes out of a challenging and difficult year as it was for the defense," said Heater. "So, maybe it can be a springboard for the next year.

"Certainly, our kids feel that way. And I felt that way after talking to all of them. I felt like the seniors, the older players, really felt that emotion. The guys that have some investment in this program, clearly I felt that they had that mind-set.

"And that's a good thing. We can build on that during the spring."

Particularly with such seniors as Sparrow, Jeremiah Taylor, Alex Bazzie, Monterius Lovett, Billy Mitchell and Derrick Thomas.

"I like the fact that we have a good core group of senior players that are invested in this program," said Heater. "They've been through a lot. They haven't quite tasted the success that I'm sure they would like to.

"So, all that bodes well from the stand-point of motivation. Now, we still have to go out and play football. That's what we've got to get better at.

"But being motivated and having an edge and having an attitude. ... that's a great place to start."

It is indeed.

Particularly when the chips are down.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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