HUNTINGTON - As Marshall senior Armani Levias spoke to media members this week, a big smile came across his face.
No, it wasn't just because the 2019 season was beginning with high expectations for Marshall.
It's because Marshall's veteran tight end knows that this could be a big week for him and his teammates within the tight end room as VMI comes calling to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for Saturday's 6:30 p.m. opener.
Film showed that last season VMI consistently brought safeties into the box in an effort to support its run defense, which led to bigger opportunities for the opposition in the passing game.
Levias said that with the Herd's strong presence in the run game, it is likely to see safeties in the box once again.
However, the versatility and experience of Marshall's offense allows for the Herd to see the look and get into the proper call with quarterback Isaiah Green.
"It's basically pick your poison, whether it's the run game or the pass game," Levias said. "You can't key in on one person because we all can hurt you from different aspects."
VMI's defensive philosophy presents an Odd front (three-man front), which they use to bring multiple blitzes from various looks.
Several Marshall players said that, at times, it was hard to figure a rhyme or reason to the look and it better resembled organized chaos, but Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said the Herd needs to not get caught up in the puzzle and instead, simplify the solution.
"I think we as coaches sometimes over-coach in some things, but football is basic math," Cramsey said. "That's what the RPO (run-pass option) game is. If they want to put seven, eight guys in the box, that only leaves three, four guys left on the field. That's where the preface of the RPO game comes into play. Especially at the tight end position with the talent we have, we can put them in situations and try to get them.
"As many guys as they want to put in the box, we've got to loosen them up on the outside or in the throw game or with things like that. Then, once we loosen them up there, we can go back and hit them downhill in the run game. But that's basically what it is. It's a basic math type of deal - addition and subtraction, how many different ways can you get to 11? They aren't allowed to put more than 11 on the field."
With VMI bringing a three-man front that has various blitzes coming from all angles, the tight end position will be critical on Saturday.
On certain blitzes, those tight ends - Levias, Xavier Gaines and Devin Miller - are needed as blockers in both the run game and on certain pass plays to allow routes to develop for Green.
Other times, they become Green's best friend as they utilize their size and speed to forge advantageous matchups within the passing game as key targets.
In terms of the physical side of football, perhaps no position demands more of a football player than being a tight end.
The hybrid nature of their duties mean that they have to be some of the most well-rounded players on the field, which is a rarity at the college level.
Having one is a huge advantage for a college football team, but Cramsey feels Marshall has three.
Levias pointed out why.
"The tight ends are a new and improved group," Levias said. "We call ourselves the Gold Standard. We expect to be perfect."
Levias said he brings a bit of everything to the table with an ability to help in run-blocking, receiving and special teams.
"People think that just because I'm a bigger guy, I can't run but I'll surprise you," Levias said. "And my hands? I believe them to be the best."
The senior then went on to foreshadow what makes his fellow tight ends so special.
"X (Gaines)? Oh man, Speed definitely kills, and he's got hands. We've been working on the Jugs after practice every day," Levias said. "And Devin? 'Mr. Fundamentals.' That's what we call him. He's Tim Duncan. He's going to do everything right."
With many weapons within the tight end group and a team that takes chances defensively, which opens itself up to one-on-one situations, expect the trio of Levias, Gaines and Miller to be in the spotlight on Saturday.
"Whatever helps us win the game," Levias said. "If that's a big block on a run, we'll do that. And you already know, we want to get a catch for a score."