Marshall RB coach settles in
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall running back Steward Butler is facing a similar scenario this spring as to what he's faced in each spring session that he's been associated with the Herd football program.
All of Marshall's top three running backs are juniors this season with Butler, Kevin Grooms and Remi Watson having all seen playing time since their freshman seasons.
And each year, they've had to get acclimated to a new running backs coach.
This season, Chris Barclay has joined the Herd to coach up the running backs for 2014 after Thomas Brown, the 2013 running backs coach, took over the same position at Wisconsin.
"There's a new sheriff in town," Barclay said with a grin. "It's part of the business and I think these kids understand it. If they want to play, this is no longer 2012, this is not 2013 and I'm not the coach who was here in 2012 or 2013. I'm the coach here in 2014 and that's our focus."
Butler said while it may seem like a tough transition each year, it has its benefits as well.
"It's not that difficult," Butler said. "You pick up learning things from each coach, so it helps me. It doesn't bother me that much."
The interesting thing about Barclay and Brown is that both are young coaches who were excellent players in big-time college football, which helps them build rapport with the players in their meeting room.
"They know what it take and they were also great players in college football, which is where we're at right now," Butler said. "I feel like that's a bonus for us."
Barclay was a two-time all-ACC standout at running back, rushing for 4.032 yards and 40 touchdowns while at Wake Forest -- a similar background to Brown, who was also a standout at the University of Georgia.
Interestingly enough, the duo were teammates as running backs for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons as well.
Barclay and Brown's familiarity with one another has helped in Barclay's transition to his new spot as he and Brown have spoken about the running backs' strengths and weaknesses.
"I know Coach Brown, we played on the Falcons together and I knew about every single one of these kids before I ever took the job," Barclay said. "Once I took the job, we've talked more in-depth about things and that's been very helpful to expedite the learning process for these guys."
While both made the NFL and were great college players, Butler was quick to point out that was nearly the end of the similarities as they come at the Herd running backs with different styles.
"When you mess up, they both act the same, but other than that, they are two different characters," Butler said. "Coach Barclay works a lot on pass protection and our techniques while Coach Brown worked on being decisive quickly. You make sure you put everything together that those coaches have taught you."
The good thing for the running backs is that with new coaches come a clean slate.
This season will see a similar scenario to the 2013 campaign where Essray Taliaferro emerged into a 1,000-yard back after being No. 4 on the depth chart for much of 2012 before getting his opportunity in the Herd's final game of the 2012 campaign.
"I know the scouting report on each and every one of them, but it's a clean slate in my mind," Barclay said. "What they do from this day forward, evaluations continue on and off the field. If you want to be the guy, I'm looking for the guy who is going to be consistent.
"Essray was the most consistent guy and that's the guy I'm looking for. Are you the same guy every day on and off the field? That's who is going to play. I'm going to play who I trust and that trust is built on and off the field."
One major difference between 2013 and 2014 is that the Herd running backs aren't just going to be asked to make plays with the football in their hands. The Herd will have a greater emphasis on running backs being able to help in pass protection.
"Playing without the football, that's a big thing," Barclay said. "If you want to get to the next level, you can't just play when you've got the football and throw your hands up and eat popcorn on the other plays. You have an assignment and you have to do something, whether blocking, running routes or giving a fake.
"You have to give great effort every play. That's something scouts evaluate when they watch film -- does he play with and without the football."
Marshall had three experienced senior tackles in 2013, along with youngster Clint Van Horn who developed into a starter by mid-season.
This season, those three seniors are gone and the Herd will rely on its running backs to help chip the blitzing ends or linebackers to alleviate some of the pressure on the offensive line and essentially, quarterback Rakeem Cato.
"We talk about pass protection every day in meetings and with us not having a No. 2 quarterback right now, we have to protect Cato," Butler said. "Without him, the offense will change and we'll have to switch our schemes. We have to protect him and make sure we get the job done."
While Cato gets much of the focus, it has been the Herd's running backs who have keyed a lot of offensive success in the last two years as well.
The Herd rushed for nearly 206 yards per game in 2013 which helped to keep the opposing defense honest and allow Cato to pick apart the opposition in the pass game.
In addition to the blocking help, the running backs are going to be counted on to attain consistency throughout the year in order to keep the Herd offense a two-dimensional attack and not allow teams to send multiple blitzes at Cato.
That's the focus of the Herd running backs this spring -- pass protection and consistency -- and they are taking the increase in duties in stride.
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