Healthy Herd faces questions
HUNTINGTON -- With the threat of tornado swirling in Tri-State skies, the Marshall University football team found safety in its locker room, prematurely ending its spring game.
Back in late April, this was the Thundering Herd -- a team without a sure-fire quarterback, with an offensive line searching for an identity, with a young and talented secondary, with a deep pool of running backs, with Vinny Curry and with a ton of injuries.
So as 2011 fall camp officially begins Thursday with move-in day, let's have second-year head coach Doc Holliday clear up the latter of those things.
"At this point, we're all healthy," Holliday said. "We have a couple guys banged up, but for the most part, I think we're in great shape.
"I don't think we are. I know we are."
So, with that out of the way, the rest of the elements that make up this Herd team are still very much the same.
Marshall will have split-squad open practices beginning Friday at 9:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., and there will still be a question mark with the signal callers.
As heavily documented, neither A.J. Graham nor Eddie Sullivan found much separation from each other during their 15 takes in April. Graham will most likely begin August with the first team, but don't go wasting lead penciling in the former Mr. Football in Florida as the starting QB when MU heads to Morgantown on Sept. 4 for the opener with West Virginia.
The competition is far from over.
Chances remain not only for Sullivan but for incoming freshmen Rakeem Cato and Blake Frohnapfel.
"Somebody needs to separate themselves," Holliday said. "Somebody has to step up and be the leader for that team. Show the intangibles that are necessary to win a championship.
"We'll have four days of an acclimation period where we'll split the two squads and we'll roll those quarterbacks around. And, hopefully at the end of those four days, going into day five when we put the teams back together, we'll have a pretty good idea of who that guy's going to be."
The Graham and Sullivan profiles aren't secret. Graham is an athletic 6-foot-4, 213-pound redshirt sophomore who showed promise in a relief stint at Southern Miss last year before suffering a season-ending high ankle sprain. During the spring, he said he was only 90 percent healed, which affected the velocity of his throws.
Sullivan is a 6-1, 195-pound true sophomore who was briefly called upon in 2010, completing just of six of 24 passes. Nothing really stood out in his spring performance, including a 10-of-20, 160-yard spring game.
The wild cards are Cato and Frohnapfel.
Cato is 6-1, 170 pounds with a dual-threat side to his game. He's fast, and can really throw (see his Miami-Dade County, Fla., high school records for career completions, yards and touchdown passes).
Frohnapfel is 6-5, 210 pounds and doesn't mind taking off (see his eight rushing touchdowns for Colonial Forge High School last season in Virginia).
"The most important thing at this position is intangibles and there's no question both those guys (Cato and Frohnapfel) have the skill level to be able to make the throws and do what we ask them to do," Holliday said. "But as does A.J. and as does Eddie.
"But that being said, at that position it's so important that they have the intangibles and the leadership skills that the Chad Penningtons, that the Byron Leftwiches, that the Tim Tebows, Chris Leaks and Phillip Riverses had.
"I'm looking for that more than anything else."
In front of that four-man rotation will be an offensive line that started spring with little promise, but ended it with great praise.
C.J. Wood, Ryan Tillman and company have found a fan in Holliday.
"I'm proud of the offensive line," he said. "The offensive line has probably come further as a group than anybody on our team.
"A year ago, I didn't like those guys. I didn't think they liked football. I didn't think they were tough. Now, I like them.
"Football is important to them, I know it is. They're working extremely hard."
And they'll get back the services of Alex Schooler, who missed spring because of injury.
The secondary took an offseason hit with safety Donald Brown's dismissal, meaning the encouraging moves made by freshmen Evan McKelvey and D.J. Hunter in the spring will have to carry over quicker to the fall.
"They have to continue to get better," Holliday said. "They grew up some."
At running back, Tron Martinez, Essray Taliaferro and Martin Ward will welcome the highly touted Travon Van to their backfield.
Van, a former University of Florida recruit, is a buzz-generator, as is the bulk of Holliday's most recent recruiting class which ranked near the top of Conference USA.
They'll roll out Friday.
"I'm excited to see Travon, but I'm also excited to see all those young kids," Holliday said. "There's been a lot of kids who have been around here this summer that we really liked when we recruited.
"As a coach, I'm excited to get those guys out there on Friday and see first-hand what they can do. It's a personnel-driven game and I truly believe we've gotten better as far as our personnel is concerned.
"Now we have to carry that over to the practice field."