Writer's note: This is the third 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 defensive line.
HUNTINGTON - Last season, Marshall's defense was in the top 10 in FBS in rushing defense and a top-25 defense nationally, thanks in large part due to its defensive front getting a strong surge and disrupting the offensive flow of the opposition.
If the Thundering Herd is to continue that trend, there will be some different faces who will step into bigger roles in 2019.
Marshall lost starting defensive tackles Ryan Bee and Malik Thompson and defensive end Juwon Young to graduation. Then, the offseason transfer of playmaker Ty Tyler to Louisville left a large void in experience, in part because Tyler rotated at defensive end and tackle.
That does not mean the Herd is without talent or experience at the position, however.
Channing Hames will assume a bigger role in the middle of the defensive front, which could forge a breakout year for the 6-foot-5, 264-pound Baltimore product.
Hames has been dominant in each of the last two bowl wins for Marshall and he put together one of the top statistical lines of any Marshall defensive lineman in 2018, finishing with 45 tackles (tops among defensive linemen), 12.5 tackles for loss (tops on team) and 7.5 sacks (second on team).
If Marshall's defense is looking for a player who could become the breakout star of the defense, Hames' name is at the top of the list.
The Herd also benefits from the return of defensive end Marquis Couch, who has been quietly consistent over the past two years. He finished with 41 tackles and eight tackles for loss last season on what proved to be a well-balanced defensive front.
Part of that balance was based on depth, which is something Marshall defensive assistants J.C. Price and Cornell Brown worked in the spring to develop.
One player who will be worth watching as he takes the field for the first time with the Herd is FIU graduate transfer Fermin Silva, who was a breakout performer two years ago for the Panthers as a defensive end before moving to linebacker last season. An Achilles tendon injury ended his 2018 campaign early, which offered him an extra year - one that he decided to utilize with the Herd defense.
Silva, a high school teammate of Couch at Miami Central, has the tools to play either defensive end or linebacker, based on team need, so his positioning is worth watching as camp opens next week.
In 2017, Silva was a defensive lineman for the Panthers and tallied 50 tackles with 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks with six quarterback hurries.
With that type of production, plus experience as a linebacker from early in 2018, it is expected that Silva will see time at the Herd's FOX position, which will have him on the edge along the line of scrimmage.
In addition to the newcomer Silva, there are several young players whom Price and Brown are excited about that have waited their turn for action.
In the spring, names like Koby Cumberlander, Sam Burton, Jamare Edwards, Arak McDuffie and Owen Porter emerged as guys who were able to make plays when called on during live portions of practice.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday even said the depth along the front was as good as has been there in his tenure, which is critical as the defensive front looks to continue its recent trend of rolling 10-12 players at a time.
"We want to rotate those guys and keep them fresh," Holliday said in the spring. "That's the way we've been able to (succeed). Fortunately, we've had some depth around here for a couple years to be able to do that."
The veteran experience of Hames, Couch and Silva blending with a younger group of players hungry to prove themselves means that preseason battles against the veteran Herd offensive front will be spirited and fun for fans to watch from the outset of fall camp.
The biggest questions among the group are, one, whether Silva can regain his 2017 form, knocking the rust off following almost a year away from the game following the Achilles injury and, two, who will emerge from the group of five or six players with limited experience to step into a bigger role in 2019.
Considering Marshall's non-conference schedule includes three Group of Five opponents who are expected to contend for conference titles in 2019, those are questions that the Herd staff is hoping to answer sooner than later.