HUNTINGTON — On Tuesday, the page turns as the world ushers in 2019 and says goodbye to 2018.
For Marshall University's football program, leaving 2018 behind means saying goodbye to many productive seniors. However, there is plenty of promise and talent returning to the fold for 2019 that is reason for optimism that the Thundering Herd will continue its trend of successful seasons.
Following is a position-by-position breakdown of what can be expected in 2019. Of note, this is with the roster and coaching staff as it stands and does not project changes in status.
Marshall will have a strong quarterback nucleus in 2019 with three players who have starting experience within the walls of the quarterback meeting room. Those players will have a full season in the system of offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey and there should be continuity at the position. Starting quarterback Isaiah Green should continue to hold that position going into the spring sessions with Alex Thomson and Garet Morrell also returning, along with Jackson White and Luke Zban, who won scout team player of the year.
Green was the Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year who threw for 2,459 yards and 15 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in his first year at the helm. Green will look to improve his accuracy numbers and limit his turnovers while building leadership in 2019. While he should be considered the starter, he cannot relax because Thomson is also a capable quarterback that adds a running dynamic.
Brenden Knox' burst onto the scene late in the season brought a different, physical dynamic to the rushing attack that coaches, players and fans alike all drew excitement from. Knox was a first-half broken hand in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl away from finishing with several 100-yard performances to end the season, including a 200-yard game against Virginia Tech. Marshall loses a pair of talented players from the backfield in Keion Davis and Anthony Anderson, but Sheldon Evans is another player who can elevate his game and become a presence. There is also the unknown of Tyler King, whose injury/status has still not been disclosed at this point.
Marshall's wide receiver room took a major hit with the losses of Tyre Brady and Marcel Williams, but Obi Obialo could step firmly into the mix as a top threat for Green and the other Herd quarterbacks. Willie Johnson is also a proven commodity with experience, but the player who could have the most upside is Naquan Renalds who was impressive in the preseason going against the starting defense. With two seniors and Obialo ahead of him, Renalds was able to learn and grow this season, which could be a blessing for his future. Also, slot receiver Artie Henry is likely to step into Williams' role after proving he could make big-time catches.
Over the years, the tight end position has been good to the Herd, and 2019 might be among one of its most talented in recent memory in terms of athleticism and play making ability. Armani Levias looked much more comfortable in his second year and
Xavier Gaines, a former quarterback who struggled with securing catches early, shined in the final two games with strong performances against Virginia Tech and South Florida. The advancement of Devin Miller is also something to keep tabs on because he brings another large presence that head coach Doc Holliday is extremely high on.
The first year under assistant coach Greg Adkins was a success, especially considering the Herd had to transition into a new position coach and a new scheme with Cramsey. Marshall loses senior Jordan Dowrey, which will hurt the interior, but the addition of junior college signee Josh Ball adds a huge presence that could significantly shift things. It is hard to project at this point, but Ball's presence as a tackle (he started at Florida State as a freshman) could move Tarik Adams and Alex Locklear inside to the guard spot that Dowrey is vacating. Depth at the guards becomes increasingly important as Alex Mollette works back from a leg injury. Cain Madden's experience this year is a bonus moving forward. Add in Dalton Tucker after a year of grooming and Marshall could be seven to nine players deep along the offensive line.
Marshall took a pair of big hits to its interior with the graduation losses of four-year player Ryan Bee and veteran Malik Thompson, but the defensive front should still be strong. The expectation is Ty Tyler moves more to a full-time inside position, rather than shifting from outside to inside frequently, where he will join Channing Hames. Both have lots of play making ability and experience. On the outside, Marquis Couch returns to the mix while Darius Hodge emerged late as a prospect. Several young players will have a chance to showcase their talent, including Koby Cumberlander, Sam Burton and Owen Porter, who was the scout team player of the year.
Marshall has to replace several major contributors from its second level defensively with the graduation of Chase Hancock, Frankie Hernandez, Artis Johnson and Donyae Moody. However, there is still talent at the position for the Herd's new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach to build from. Jaquan Yulee has patiently waited to showcase his ability as an every-down linebacker and likely will get that opportunity while Omari Cobb will be the veteran leader of the group. Virginia Tech transfer Tavante Beckett will be ready to go, as well, and the 2019 signing class for the Herd went heavy on linebackers.
Marshall got some good news late in the year when it was announced that Kereon Merrell received his extra year of eligibility. That means Chris Jackson, Merrell and emerging young talent Steven Gilmore return, which provides continuity for cornerbacks coach Mike Treier. As Treier has said a team can never have enough cornerbacks, so the onus will be on him to develop more young talent in the spring. The starting contingent for 2019 looks promising, but depth will be a point of emphasis.
The safety position will be among Marshall's strongest in 2019, led by Malik Gant, the 2018 Most Valuable Player. Gant's leadership resonates with the entire defense and he will be joined at the safety spot(s) by Nazeeh Johnson and Brandon Drayton, who both have a wealth of game experience and play making ability. One player who made a play making ascent in special teams late in the year that could translate to snaps in the future is Kenard King.
Marshall's specialists all return for the 2019 season. Gaining consistency and strength are points of emphasis for kicker Justin Rohrwasser and punter Robert LeFevre while combo player Shane McDonough will look to improve in both areas as a formidable all-around backup. Long snapper Matthew Beardall will again be among the league's best and holder Jackson White returns to give the placekick mechanics all three positions returning in 2019.