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Grant Traylor: Thundering Herd's return game leaves field position to be desired

Oct. 11, 2012 @ 12:13 AM

Call it coachspeak.

Call it being cautious.

Call it trying to be positive.

Whatever you want to call it, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday is normally extremely careful when answering questions about specific areas in which his team is struggling.

Perhaps that makes it much more telling about the state of the Thundering Herd's kickoff return game after Holliday made no hesitation about calling it "disappointing" thus far this season.

It isn't just about numbers, although those aren't going to portray a pretty picture either.

The Herd is 77th in the country in kickoff returns, averaging 20.07 yards per return.

And what's the Herd's longest return of the season?

That would be a whopping 30 yards.

Once again, the NCAA rules changes have helped kickoff coverage units immensely -- something Holliday pointed to as a direct reason for the lack of numbers.

"If you look at the overall stats from all the Conference USA teams, which is what we look at, the returns are not as much as they were a year ago," Holliday said.

Yes, the rules have changed, but the Herd has a pair of seniors back there in Andre Snipes-Booker and blocker Martin Ward.

With the new kickoff rules, a touchback comes out to the 25-yard line, which means the blocker and returner have to communicate with the ball in mid-air as to what the plan of action is going to be.

It appears that has been lacking on some occasions with Snipes-Booker bringing the ball out and Ward not expecting it while standing with Snipes-Booker at the front of the end zone, expecting him to take a knee.

The result has been a lack of returns and a long field for the offense.

"We have to do a good job based on the return, too -- where the ball is kicked -- as to whether we bring it out or not," Holliday said. "(Snipes-Booker) will do that. He's been good and he'll do a good job with that."

While Holliday is confident in the abilities of Booker in the return game, if the average doesn't start to rise soon, there could be a chance that someone else ends up back at the goal line waiting to take kicks.

One option is running back Steward Butler, who is averaging 24.7 yards -- 4.5 more than Booker -- in his three kickoff returns on the season.

Of course, Butler has seen an increase in workload through the rushing attack, so Holliday may not opt to risk putting him back there, but Holliday has also said that he wants the ball in his playmakers' hands.

It'll be interesting to see how the kickoff return game progress over the second half of the year.

BYE WEEK OR BYE-BYE WEEK: While Marshall players were busy healing their wounds and getting in some much needed relaxation time, the Herd staff was out looking for the next crop of Marshall athletes earlier this week.

The staff took off on Sunday and Monday for recruiting and have since returned for late practice in the week.

Grant Traylor is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or gtraylor@herald-dispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).

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