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Chuck Landon: Early Herd scrimmage a puzzle to appraise

Aug. 12, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

No review of the videotape is necessary.

The findings on Marshall's first preseason Saturday at Edwards Field have been formulated.

My call?

It was an enigma.

Take the offense, for example. On the surface, it had a field day.

Quarterback Rakeem Cato completed 19 of 24 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. Wideout Demetrius Evans caught touchdown passes of 46 and 17 yards, while slot receiver Tommy Shuler had eight receptions for 48 yards and a TD. Running backs Stew Butler, Kevin Grooms and Remi Watson combined for 182 yards on 30 carries.

Now, for the rest of the story.

The defense was those guys wearing green jerseys and white handcuffs. OK, so maybe the handcuffs were figurative, but it didn't make them any less real.

The offense flourished, in part, because it wasn't facing anything but base defense.

Just ask around.

"The defense didn't blitz or play any nickel," said second-team quarterback Blake Frohnapfel. "They really didn't do anything but play base."

That was by design.

After last season's struggles, the offense needs some confidence. That's what this scrimmage was about.

Gentlemen, start your enigma.

That's particularly true when some conspicuous absences are added to the situation.

Remember Aaron Dobson? The first-team All-Conference USA preseason pick? The playmaker extraordinaire?

He had just two catches for only 28 yards on consecutive plays and took most of the rest of the scrimmage off. Ditto for fellow senior wideouts Tay Wilson and Andre Booker.

Then, there are veteran running backs Tron Martinez and Travon Van. They didn't participate at all.

So, does all this diminish the offense's performance? Maybe a little. Take the offensive showing with a grain of salt that's a size a deer would appreciate. And grade the defense on a generous curve.

What isn't diminished, however, are individual performances.

Cato looked good, plain and simple. And part of it was opening up the offense for him. A prime example was using bootleg passes to play to Cato's strength.

There's also no denying freshman running back Stew Butler's speed and elusiveness. He averaged 6.0 yards per attempt with 60 yards on 10 carries.

Even more impressive, the slightly-built Butler lowered his shoulder a couple of times and ran over would-be tacklers. That was unexpected from the 5-foot-9, 165-pound wisp of a running back.

"Stew is tougher than people think," said running backs coach JaJuan Seider.

Defensively, Cortez Carter, Jermaine Holmes, Alex Bazzie and Derrick Thomas stood out. Holmes, the first-team middle linebacker, had seven tackles including three for loss, while his backup, Carter, had a team-high 10 tackles. Bazzie had seven tackles, including three sacks.

Then, there's Thomas. Despite playing in helmet and shoulder pads rather than full pads, the recent Penn State transfer was impressive at cornerback. If the injured Darryl Roberts, who still was wearing a protective boot on his foot Saturday, isn't healthy soon, don't be surprised if he is red-shirted and Thomas ends up starting at the field corner position.

Why, even a coach merits a mention. Offensive coordinator Bill Legg was calling plays from the press box along-side co-coordinator Tony Petersen instead of from the sideline and it seemed to work fine.

So, was the first scrimmage an enigma? Yes. But does that mean it wasn't successful? No.

It was.

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

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