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Andrew Ramspacher: Emergence of speedy Taliaferro may heat up RB battle

Apr. 22, 2011 @ 12:14 AM

Ask Tron Martinez about his spring football competition at the Marshall running back spot and he just shakes his head and chooses to repeat two words several times.

"Essray, whew, he is very fast," Martinez said. "Essray is very fast. He's a smart back who is very fast."

So let's get this straight, rising redshirt sophomore Essray Taliaferro is what?

"Very fast," Martinez said with a chuckle.

During Wednesday's scrimmage, Taliaferro toyed with and taunted defenders on his way to a 15-carry, 110-yard, two touchdown performance.

On Thursday, running backs coach JaJuan Seider chose to sit solidified starter Martinez out to see if Taliaferro could hold his own with the first team.

He checked out, scoring a touchdown late in 11-on-11s by way of a dead sprint to the corner of the end zone.

"He's just being more patient," Seider said. "Sometimes he's so fast that he can't control his speed. But he's starting to see the holes better.

"Today was a good day. ... I wanted to see how Taliaferro could do with the first team and if he could take charge and I was impressed. He took ownership. I have three guys (including Martin Ward) that I feel like can step in right now and feel comfortable."

Throw in the additions of Steward Butler, Remi Watson and Travon Van this summer and the running back stakes could be higher than any other position.

"I think so," Seider said. "And these guys know. And that's the beauty of my room. I don't have to push them. They aren't dumb. They know there's some talented guys coming here.

"They know, 'I'm not just competing with these guys. I have to make sure I'm ready to compete when these other guys come in.'

"And I have a bunch of unselfish guys and they're all very comfortable, which makes my job a lot easier."

COJO DOES IT ... AGAIN: On Tuesday, it was a sprawled out effort, flying into the end zone for a 40-yard scoring catch.

On Wednesday, it was a patient, come-back to the ball, leaping catch for a 61-yard gain.

On Thursday, it was a come-down-with-it, jump-ball grab over a jersey grabbing Corie Wilson on the "L" in "MARSHALL" at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Three straight days, three spectacular plays from quarterback-turned-receiver Conelius Jones.

"That's what he's supposed to do," head coach Doc Holliday said. "Finally, we made a play. Hell, that's what good players are supposed to do -- make good catches."

FOR KICK'S SAKE: Besides passing, running and tackling, they also booted the ball around in Wednesday's scrimmage.

Kase Whitehead made punts of 40, 36, 44 and 46 yards. Justin Haig followed with punts of 30, 35, 39 and 52 yards.

Field goal-wise, Tyler Warner was good from 36 yards, but missed from 41 (wide right) and 45 (short and wide right). Haig was good from 23 and 38 yards.

The special teams highlight of the day, however, came courtesy of Nick Stevens, who drilled a kickoff into the end zone for a touchback.

Remember, Marshall had just two of those all 2010 season.

LEE SMITH UPDATE: The people at Pro Football Weekly magazine have spoken and the following is their thoughts on former Marshall tight end Lee Smith's draft status:

"Smith has excellent size and arm length and he's a strong blocker. He plays physical, seeks to finish blocks, has outstanding intangibles. He's a highly respected, vocal team leader. He kind of ran wild early in his career, but matured greatly and now holds his teammates accountable.

"Smith has a tendency to lock his knees and faces up defenders too straight-legged. He has limited foot speed, struggles to uncover and he isn't strong or elusive after the catch.

"Smith is a physical, line of scrimmage blocker who could help a running game as a No. 2 blocking tight end."

PFW's Nolan Nawrocki predicts Smith as a fifth-to-sixth round NFL pick.

SCHEDULE: The Herd will practice in helmets and shorts at 3 p.m., Friday, in preparation for Saturday's Green-White Game at 4 p.m.

Holliday said Thursday the format for the Green-White Game will be very similar to what they did for Wednesday's scrimmage. As Holliday put it, the teams will be "good on good." In other words, expect the first-team offense to play the first-team defense.

Andrew Ramspacher is a sports reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or aramspacher@herald-dispatch.com.

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