Writer's note: This is the first installment of a 10-part series breaking down Marshall's 2019 football team by position before the Thundering Herd reports to preseason camp on Aug. 1. This story will focus on Marshall's quarterback position.
HUNTINGTON — Entering the 2018 season, Marshall had seen just two quarterbacks take the majority of snaps for a span of seven seasons when Rakeem Cato and Chase Litton each took the keys as freshmen and never let off the throttle.
Last season, it appeared that a similar situation was mounting as freshman Isaiah Green was also named as the starting quarterback. However, a midseason injury forced graduate transfer Alex Thomson into action before Green later returned to the starting role following the loss to Southern Miss.
Green regained his form over the final weeks of the season as Marshall ended 2018 as winners of four of their final five contests - the lone loss being a makeup game against Virginia Tech prior to a resounding bowl win over South Florida.
In all, Green finished the year 7-2 as a starter, which gave him plenty of momentum as the team headed for the offseason.
Last year's situation puts Marshall in a strong position at the quarterback spot with both Green and Thomson proving that they can perform at a level to see success.
However, each has to elevate their game for the 2019 season if Marshall is to win the East Division title in Conference USA, as projected in preseason polls.
Last season, Marshall's defense allowed both Green and Thomson to be more of game managers instead of forcing them into a situation to go win games.
With several defensive starters - including many linebackers and talented safety Malik Gant - gone from last year's defense, the quarterbacks will have to make more plays in 2019.
Both showed glimpses of being able to do so at different times last season.
Green's final game of 2018 was one of his most efficient as he went 17 of 25 for 221 yards through the air while spreading the ball around to seven different receivers in the win over South Florida. He also showed glimpses of what he can do with his legs, rushing five times for 36 yards, including the first rushing touchdown of his Marshall career.
Thomson also provided a few strong moments during the 2018 season - most notably his performance in a 31-7 win over Florida Atlantic in which he efficiently threw for 102 yards and two touchdowns while showing his strength as a rusher with 16 carries for 50 yards and a score. It was part of a day when Marshall rushed for 233 yards.
For both Green and Thomson, consistency is the biggest improvement needed from the 2018 season.
While there were glimpses of strong play, there were also times in which the offense grew stagnant and the passing game was ineffective.
Especially with top target Tyre Brady now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, each has to establish rapport with a receiver set led by Obi Obialo and a wealth of tight ends, including Armani Levias, Xavier Gaines and up-and-coming talent Devin Miller. Building rapport with Kentucky graduate transfer Tavin Richardson is also critical early in camp.
All eyes will be on Green, who enters his second season as a starter with plenty of expectations after being named a Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year.
Green finished with 2,459 passing yards and 15 touchdowns in 10 games, but also threw 10 interceptions and completed just 56.7 percent of his passes - both numbers that need to improve.
For Marshall's staff, the hope is that Green is able to avoid a sophomore slump that Litton saw when the Herd defense suffered some turnover going into the 2016 season.
As the year gets underway, Green will be behind a strong offensive line and a rushing attack that should help take the pressure off while forcing some one-on-one situations on the outsides that can be taken advantage of as he looks to make plays in the aerial attack.
Should Green struggle, however, Thomson has the starting experience while also bringing a rushing dynamic that could be utilized, as well, in offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey's system.
Marshall also has some talent within the quarterback room that brings a different dynamic as well.
Veteran Jackson White has been around for several seasons and Cramsey calls him "another coach in the room" while Luke Zban returns after earning Scout Team Player of the Year honors. The group also adds a pair of true freshmen with talent: George Washington product Grant Wells, who impressed in spring drills after enrolling early, and Miami Central talent Maurice Underwood, who takes the field in fall with plenty of expectation having been from the same high school as Cato and Herd receiving great Tommy Shuler.
For Cramsey, who also leads the Herd quarterbacks, the mix of experience and talent creates a solid foundation for the Herd offense as 2019 begins.