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Chuck Landon: Spring ball brings more excitement than usual

Apr. 28, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Usually, spring football is about as interesting as watching steel beams being hung for new luxury boxes.

Boring.

But this spring practice was different.

Marshall's spring drills that culminated in the Green defeating the White, 55-38, Saturday at Edwards Stadium actually were meaningful.

It was informative, insightful and posed some questions to be pondered during the off-season.

n When is Marshall's offense going to play a true spread with two legitimate slot receivers?

That wasn't an issue in 2012 because the lone slot, Tommy Shuler, caught 110 passes and tight end Gator Hoskins, lining up in the other slot, caught 10 touchdown passes.

However, the Herd didn't have Devon "Moo-Moo" Smith last season. Now, it does. And Smith has a chance to be the most electrifying player on the field.

But, first, the 5-foot-7, 150-pound slot receiver has to be in the game.

Not once during spring practice did Shuler line up in one slot and Smith in the other. Instead, it was Shuler or Smith and a tight end. No offense, but Shuler and Smith together in the slots are much more dangerous. Imagine the havoc the duo could create for defenses.

This move definitely needs to be made.

n How is Marshall's defense going to get a pass rush off the edge?

The answer is ... smoke and mirrors.

New defensive coordinator Chuck Heater will have to manufacture pressure on opposing quarterbacks because the Herd lacks a pass-rushing defensive end in the mold of Vinny Curry, Albert McClellan or Johnathan Goddard.

So, look for Heater to create pressure by utilizing blitzes and different formations.

Formation-wise, besides the base 4-3 scheme the Herd will play a lot of nickel coverage with five defensive backs and only two linebackers. But don't be surprised to see some 3-3-5, as well.

The nickel will allow Corey Tindal to blitz from his nickelback position, but it also opens up the possibility for the occasional corner blitz, too. As for the 3-3-5, strong-side linebacker Stefan Houston could morph into a standup defensive end and rush from the edge.

The defense will have to do a lot of mixing and matching to generate a pass rush.

n Will Marshall really utilize backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel's running ability during a few possessions each game as a change-of-pace?

It remains to be seen, but head coach Doc Holliday insists it will happen.

"It's great to have Fro there and we're going to do some more things with him, too," said Holliday. "We'll have a package for him because he deserves to play and he will play."

Let's hope so because Frohnapfel's performance against East Carolina last season proved he can radically change a game.

n Will the Herd's offense be able to improve its downfield passing game?

That's a necessity.

MU struggled with downfield passing last season, as evidenced by Aaron Dobson's touchdown receptions dropping from 12 in 2011 to only three in 2012. Those struggles continued throughout spring practice as very few deep balls were completed.

That problem has to be fixed or opposing defenses will crowd the line of scrimmage to combat MU's myriad of screens and underneath routes.

And, now, that spring practice wasn't like watching FieldTurf grow?

We can look forward to some answers.

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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