Herd looking to go old school
HUNTINGTON -- A handful of football programs, including Marshall University, project as exceptions to Conference USA's standard.
Particularly in the West Division, this plays out as a pass-happy league. Final scores routinely end with both teams totaling 40 points, at least.
Marshall, C-USA favorite East Carolina, Southern Miss and UCF, meanwhile, will lean on defense, running games and special teams -- old-school football in a spread-offense world.
Particularly, Marshall head coach Mark Snyder anticipates the play of his defensive front.
Thundering Herd players report for preseason camp today and check into Twin Towers East dormitory in advance of practice beginning Friday. The season opens Sept. 5 against Southern Illinois at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Defensive line coach Bob Fello's group boasts eight-deep, or more, along the line. "This is the deepest defensive line I've ever been around," Snyder said.
Former C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Albert McClellan enters 2009 as a senior leader and fully recovered from a 2007 knee injury. Fello, defensive coordinator Rick Minter and Snyder are armed with numbers and options with numerous players capable of switching from tackle to end in 4-3 and 3-4 alignments.
Long runs the list in the prospective rotation: McClellan, Delvin Johnson, Brandon Bullock, James Burkes, Montel Glasco, John Jacobs, Michael Janac, Johnny Jones, Vinny Curry and John Youboty.
Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 296-pound junior tackle, totaled a modest 27 tackles in his initial Thundering Herd season. His impact, however, factors more into double-team demands, allowing linebackers and ends to make plays. Bullock (6-3, 355 pounds) similarly jams the line of scrimmage, providing opportunities for others.
Prominent among play-makers is weak side linebacker Mario Harvey, a senior who totaled a team-best 107 tackles last season, including seven for loss and 4.5 sacks. Also back is senior Brandon Burns (6-4, 205), recruited as a safety but converted to strong side linebacker. He excelled in an unfamiliar role, ranking fourth on the team (and third among returning defenders) with 69 tackles. The rangy Burns also broke up five passes.
McClellan, gradually returning to form in 2008, totaled 58 tackles, including 2.5 sacks. Jacobs (32 tackles last season) and Curry, a promising 6-5, 249-pound junior, add athleticism at end.
Snyder spoke defense first leading to preseason camp.
"I feel best about our defensive front," the fifth-year coach said. "I feel good about our two corners (DeQuan Bembry and T.J. Drakeford). I feel great about our (strong) safety (Ashton Hall).
"I feel good about one of our linebacker positions (Harvey). I feel really good about our offensive line if we can stay healthy, and obviously I feel very good about our tailback position and our tight end position."
Snyder annually conducts a special-teams specific practice during spring and August drills, and again emphasized the game's third phase in the days leading to camp.
Long-snapper Sean McClellan returns and punter Kase Whitehead placed 24 kicks inside the 20-yard line last season as a true freshman.
"And our punting situation -- punting and snapping," Snyder said. "Let's not forget about that."
All of the above fall under proverbial microscopes this morning with players checking into dorm rooms.