MU football gets ready
HUNTINGTON -- The general consensus thinks spring football is the official start of a new year for an NCAA Division I program.
For Marshall University football head coach Doc Holliday, it is equated to the second quarter of a game.
Holliday said his team had a great first quarter -- the winter conditioning period -- and is looking to build on that momentum as spring practice begins Tuesday in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Marshall will get in 15 practices as allowed by the NCAA in the next month, capped April 26 by the annual Green-White game.
Holliday said maximizing the 15 practices will be crucial to continue the successful run Marshall began in 2013 with 10 victories, a Conference USA East Division title and a Military Bowl win over Maryland.
"Just having 15 practices, we have to make sure we go out every day and make sure we walk off that field a better football team as individuals and as a team," Holliday said. "We've got a lot of work to do. I know I'm excited and the coaches are excited to get back out there."
As with any spring, there are several position battles that will come to the forefront, but Holliday was quick to point out that none will be as big as the battle for the backup quarterback spot behind rising senior starter Rakeem Cato.
With former backup Blake Frohnapfel transferring to UMass, establishing a reliable option behind Cato is priority No. 1.
That backup position will be competed for heavily by sophomore Gunnar Holcombe, redshirt freshman Kevin Anderson and true freshman Cole Garvin, who enrolled in January after graduating early from Sandy Creek (Ga.) High School.
"The quarterback situation is critical," Holliday said. "We all know Cato can play, but we've got to get a backup. If you don't have that guy at that position, that's an issue. Those three guys are going to get a lot of reps."
The offense will see many of the integral spring battles, whether it is the backup quarterback spot or the emergence of reliable offensive tackles following the graduation of three seniors.
Clint Van Horn returns after taking over one starting tackle spot midway through the 2013 season. After an injury that took him out of the Military Bowl, there was a question as to whether he'd be ready for spring, but Holliday said he's good to go.
Sebastian Johansson, the starting left guard for much of 2013, will shift to the outside in an effort for the Herd to get its best five linemen on the field.
Holliday said he thinks Johansson's production could improve significantly with the move to the outside.
"Swede will go outside initially, and to be honest, he may be a better tackle than he is a guard," Holliday said. "He's our most athletic player up front. He can run, he's athletic, he's long. He could possibly be a better tackle than what he was a guard because of his athleticism."
Other battles that Holliday outlined as crucial were at starting running back where the Herd lost 1,200-yard rusher Essray Taliaferro to graduation.
Kevin Grooms, who missed much of 2013 with injuries and off-field issues, will participate in spring football drills after having been suspended indefinitely late in the 2013 season following an arrest.
Grooms will join Steward Butler and Remi Watson as a trio of junior running backs looking to fill the void.
"Those guys are talented backs, but they have to become good all-around backs like Taliaferro did," Holliday said. "They have to be able to protect, take care of the football. The actual making plays in space and running with it, that's easy. It's the other aspects of being a great running back, which is toughness, protection, securing the football and doing all the other things that great backs do. They need to become more complete backs."
Holliday said he's also looking for some younger players to emerge as leaders.
"We talk about all the time that with our program, there's no place to hide in this program," Holliday said. "If you don't like where you are, change what you're doing. There are some athletes out there, some young players out there, that it's time for them to step up and help this football team."
Holliday said only two players will be out for the spring because of injuries. Linebacker Kent Turene will miss spring football after offseason surgery as will offensive lineman Tyler Combs, who is recovering from ankle surgery.
Linebacker Neville Hewitt will participate in a few individual drills toward the later part of spring, but will be extremely limited, Holliday said.
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