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Chuck Landon: Marshall may tackle better with some time

Apr. 10, 2013 @ 12:58 AM

Fans aren't patient by nature.

And why should they be?

They are expected to step up and perform daily in their professions. So, shouldn't they be entitled to the same expectations from their favorite sports teams?

Of course.

That leads us to Marshall's defense during spring football practice at Edwards Stadium. After arguably the worst season of defense this side of Morgantown during 2012, all eyes are on Marshall's defensive unit now.

And, yes, it's a critical eye.

Sure, Chuck Heater deserves the benefit of the doubt as Marshall's new defensive coordinator. And, no, fans shouldn't expect Heater to be a miracle worker. But Herd fans have every right to expect and demand a much better defensive performance than they witnessed last season.

That's why the natives seated near me got more than a little restless at a recent practice. When they saw a blown coverage in Marshall's secondary allow wide receiver Craig Wilkins to stand all alone in the end zone for a touchdown reception, they reacted.

"Same old defense, boys," exclaimed a veteran fan to his buddies.

Another perplexed fan hollered, "C'mon! They've got to do better than that!"

After watching Marshall's defense allow 43.1 points and 456.8 yards per game last season, yielding a wide-open touchdown on a busted coverage was the very last thing these dedicated fans wanted to see.

I feel their pain.

The problem is MU's defense can't be fixed overnight. It took three years for it to hit the bottom of the NCAA statistical barrel and all the damage can't be undone in only seven spring practices.

It is getting better, however. That much is obvious. The progress might be slow, but it's sure.

Now, at least, such players as D.J. Hunter are in the right positions. The schemes also appear more fundamentally sound, as opposed to the old concept of using both the free and strong safety like linebackers.

That's why a safety has been Marshall's leading tackler for two consecutive seasons. Guess what? That's a problem, not a solution.

But it won't be a problem under Heater.

Just ask Doc Holliday.

"Chuck does such a tremendous job with them fundamentally and technique-wise," said Marshall's head coach. "The one thing I know you have to do defensively is you have to get your feet in the ground and play.

"When you play against an offense like us, at times that's hard.

"But I don't see a lot of guys out there running around that aren't lined up and don't know where to be. That's a good thing because we've installed a new defense, yet they seem to understand the concepts and where to line up and they're playing with a lot more fundamentals and techniques."

That doesn't mean Heater can ensure his players will make plays. He can't. All he can do is put them in the right position to make plays. The rest is up to the players.

And that's the part which is still a work in progress.

But guess who attests to that progress?

None other than Rakeem Cato ... of all endorsers.

When asked what has been the biggest surprise of spring practice, Marshall's star quarterback didn't hesitate.

"Defense," replied Cato. "They've really been swarming. It makes me have to be more accurate."

So, MU's fans need to be as patient as possible. The defense isn't going to be great next season, but will it be better?

Yes.

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

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