HUNTINGTON — The 2019 season presents plenty of "new" for the Marshall defense.
There are new personnel after the graduation of several key players. There is also a new sheriff in town, with former Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert returning to Marshall as the defensive coordinator of the Thundering Herd.
As Lambert knows, that newness brings with it some growing pains, but there is one aspect that Lambert has reiterated to his team throughout the early portion of camp.
And that is, if you are making a mistake, make it an aggressive mistake.
"Make it fast," Lambert said. "That's what we tell them in camp. You've got to play fast, run to the ball. There is no substitute for that. We can clean mistakes up."
So far, Lambert has left the field with smiles and "attaboys" each day as his defense continues its growth.
They've been far from perfect, but Lambert said the collective effort and energy has been as needed to lead the unit to success.
"Through the first part, the guys' energy level has been great," Lambert said of his defense. "They are flying around, playing fast. Obviously, we've still got a lot of work to do to correct some of the mistakes, but I've been really pleased with their energy."
The defense lost leadership at each level following graduations and defections from 2018. Up front, Ryan Bee and Malik Thompson graduated and Ty Tyler transferred to Louisville, while nearly all linebacker production is gone, aside from Omari Cobb, who returns with starting experience. On the back end, safety Malik Gant left for the NFL early, but there is still experience around.
While others will have to step up as leaders along each level, Lambert said there is no shortage of talent with the Herd at each spot with camp serving as an audition for those who want to become a viable part of the rotation.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said he and Lambert are looking for one aspect in particular.
"No. 1, it's consistency," Holliday said. "We want guys to consistently do what we ask them to do - get their head in the right gap."
Lambert said consistency on a daily basis is what separates starters from contributors.
Those who continue to play fast will see the game slow down for them - a notion that seems somewhat ironic, but makes sense when Lambert explains how it works on the field in the grand scheme of a practice.
"What gets difficult about camp is that you are installing and your offense is installing new plays, so each day, you're seeing a little something different," Lambert said. "Once you get toward the back end of camp and more into (game prep), everything is really going to slow down for them from a schematic standpoint."
Marshall is getting into the midway point of its preseason and the last week of camp before the shift to game preparation begins. Both Lambert and Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said this particular time is a crossroads for the team.
Teams that struggle to succeed are often those that see a downturn in energy once the newness of camp wears off and they hit the midpoint between the start of camp and the start of games.
Good teams are able to maintain that energy level throughout the rest of camp, while great teams find a way to continue to elevate their energy each day, building up momentum to the start of the season.
"Now, we're going to get into day eight and beyond of camp, and sometimes you can hit a lull in there, so we've got to really push through even harder right now," Lambert said.
Holliday has his eyes on the bigger picture: a Conference USA championship - something many prognosticators expect Marshall to be in the mix for at 2019's end.
The Herd's 10-year veteran head coach said the rise to expectations starts with a continued ascent in practice each day.
"In order for us to get where we want to go and for expectations where they are, we'd better have juice every practice," Holliday said. "We can't walk off the field any day without being a better football team because of the challenge we have ahead of us."