Brown has Herd running
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University running backs coach Thomas Brown is no stranger to making quick impressions in the game of football.
He did so as a running back at the University of Georgia and he's done it throughout his young coaching career.
There's no one who has been more impressed by Brown's presence than the running backs he is coaching. In his first few months on the job, Brown has earned a nickname.
"We call him 'Superman,"' Marshall running back Remi Watson said. "He demands the most out of us. The expectations he holds us to, we ask him 'Did you do all this when you played?' He's like 'Yeah, I can still do it now.' That's why we call him 'Superman."'
Marshall's three leading running backs in 2012 were all freshmen, led by Kevin Grooms, who was named as the Conference USA Freshman of the Year.
As impressive as the group was a year ago, it's going to take much more to impress Brown, who was named Freshman All-SEC at Georgia in 2004.
"At Georgia, I came in seventh on the depth chart out of eight running backs," Brown said. "Four of those guys that ended up playing in the NFL are still there, so I had to earn it."
It was during a 13-3 win over Marshall that Brown's Freshman All-SEC season in 2004 took flight.
After rushing for 18 yards and a touchdown on five attempts in the first two games of the year, Brown sparked the Bulldogs' rushing attack in the second half with 81 yards on 18 carries.
Georgia had just 13 net yards rushing in the first half before Brown took off.
He went on to have four 100-yard games in SEC play that year to help lead Georgia to a 10-2 record, which included a 24-21 Outback Bowl win over Wisconsin when he rushed for 111 yards and what proved to be the game-winning, 29-yard touchdown run.
Brown finished his career with 2,646 yards and 23 touchdowns before being drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He spent the 2008 year with the Falcons before joining the Cleveland Browns in 2009.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday and defensive coordinator Chuck Heater went against Brown as part of the Florida Gators staff under Urban Meyer.
"He played at the highest level and played very well -- started as a four-year starter," Holliday said. "When I was at Florida, we played against him and he was extremely tough and he did it all right -- secured the ball, put his face on people in blitzes -- and he's coaching the way he played. If he can get those guys playing like he did, they'll be fine."
Brown is making every effort to get the Thundering Herd running backs to an elite level by incorporating several new drills during spring practices.
It's a fast-paced, high-intensity workout -- even for one of the Herd's fastest backs.
"He's on the gas until we walk back through the (Shewey Building) doors," Grooms said. "We know what to expect from him and we get it everyday. He's 'Superman.' He never gets tired. He's the Energizer bunny. We always go at him and he goes at us, but he's going to get us where we need to be. He knows what it takes to get there."
One drill the running backs do involves Brown setting up cones at a station where each player has to hop the cones on one foot while maintaining balance and keeping the ball high and tight against their bodies. Brown tries to smack the football out of their arms each time they hop.
"I'm trying to incorporate as many football-specific things that are relative to the game and playing the actual position and place them in drills so we can hopefully take the drills from the individual and put them into the game," Brown said.
Then, there is the Blaster, which has become infamous among the running backs.
The Blaster is a practice machine with two pads on each side that serve as the initial defenders that the running backs have to run through. The hole between the two pads then has 16 plastic arms -- eight high, eight low -- that they have to run through. The final "defender" on the Blaster is a heavy bag that the back has to run through to finish the drill.
In all, the Blaster takes about three seconds to get through. It's impact lasts for a long time, however, because the arms hit the leveraged running backs in the head, legs -- and everywhere in-between.
"Some of this stuff, we've never even done before," Watson said. "He got us on the Blaster to get us used to running through contact and stuff. It's hard because it beats up your body and sometimes it will hit you in inappropriate places, but like Grooms said, he's on the gas all the time and he wants the best out of us."
The Herd's trio of main running backs -- Grooms, Steward Butler and Watson -- all became very close after the 2012 season when they combined for 1,617 yards and 18 touchdowns/
Now, Brown wants to conform their closeness into a fun competition -- almost like beating your brother in a sport or challenge.
With the chemistry already built last year, the brotherly rivalry will make them better players overall.
"Competition solves most of your problems," Brown said. "It makes you better. It keeps you grounded and working hard. I don't care how self-motivated of an individual you are, you can never reach your highest potential without being pushed to get there. I'm not playing them against each other, but it's all about making sure they compete."
Marshall finished with the sixth-ranked offense nationally last season and many looked at one of the nation's leading passing attacks as the reason for that success.
However, that translated into a 5-7 season.
In Marshall's five victories the rushing attack averaged 234.8 yards.
In the Herd's seven losses, Marshall averaged about half of that -- a mere 122.2 rushing yards per loss.
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