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Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Marshall's Channing Hames (94) sacks UTSA quarterback Bryce Rivers during a C-USA football game on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W.Va.

HUNTINGTON - By nature, defensive guys always seem to carry a chip on their shoulder.

For Marshall's 2019 defensive unit, however, that chip is real as Saturday's 2019 season-opener against VMI on Saturday draws closer.

The chip on the collective shoulders of the defense comes from the offseason talk leading up to the 2019 season, which centered more around Marshall's losses due to graduation instead of the returning talent, which also is plentiful.

Linebacker Omari Cobb said there is a buzz about Saturday's 6:30 p.m. opener that has the defense locked in on practice this week.

"I feel like there's a lot of players with a chip on their shoulder because we've got a standard to live up to," Cobb said. "We've got players like (linebackers Jaquan) Yulee and (Tavante) Beckett that have been sitting there waiting for this moment. Yulee's been here for a minute and he's ready to show what he can do and Beckett transferred so he is ready to get out there and fly around again."

In 2018, Marshall's defense finished No. 8 in FBS in rushing defense and No. 26 in FBS in total defense, meaning the standard is high for the Thundering Herd defense.

"Absolutely, man," Hames said. "But we're just going to continue on with what we left off from the bowl game - that same enthusiasm, that same energy - and just attack on the field. Everyone knows what the spirit is of Marshall's defense and we look forward to getting out there."

Hames, a preseason All-Conference USA selection, headlines that returning experience up front, along with defensive end Marquis Couch, while Cobb brings needed experience at the second level. The secondary also returns four-year starter and preseason All-Conference USA selection Chris Jackson at cornerback, along with starting experience in Kereon Merrell and Jaylon McClain-Sapp while Nazeeh Johnson anchors the safety spot after starting all 13 games in 2018.

That gives Marshall experienced leadership at each level for first-year defensive coordinator Brad Lambert.

Jackson said that leadership has been the backbone of Marshall's success.

"The first thing we've got to do is lead by example," Jackson said. "I can't tell guys to do something if I'm not doing it, so it's just showing guys the right way of doing things and coming in locked in and ready to go."

While there are plenty of younger players who will see their first extended action on Saturday, Hames said it was a veteran - Cobb - who he is interested in seeing back out on the field the most.

Last season, Cobb was the young gun among a senior-laden Marshal linebacking corps. However, Cobb now takes over as the lone seasoned veteran on the second level of the Herd defense.

"Got to be my main man, No. 31, Omari Cobb," Hames said. "It's something that we've been talking about all year and all summer long - just about the things we want to do and the accomplishments that we want to make together on the field. We're both seniors, and it's time to take it to the next level."

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