Good news, bad news along Herd's injury front
HUNTINGTON - As expected, Marshall's off week was what the Doc ordered for the usual midseason bumps and bruises.
As a bonus, the Thundering Herd's struggling defense should get some reinforcements this week. But there is also bad news on that front: Running back-turned-cornerback Travon Van has been declared out until further notice.
At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Coach Doc Holliday said defensive tackle Ken Smith and linebacker Billy Mitchell have resumed practice after recovering from long-term injuries.
The 6-foot-3, 288-pound Smith had yet to even practice this season after back surgery, while Mitchell has been out since August with a concussion. Both were ticketed for significant reserve roles.
"Ken Smith, we had lost him earlier this year with an issue, but he's back," Holliday said. "He's practiced now for a couple of [practices]. Billy Mitchell should play, another guy who was a starter for us a year ago who has sat out up until this point. So we've got a few guys back who haven't played the first six games, which should help us a bit.
"They started last week, and they'll take a lot of reps this week."
Both players could return Saturday when the Herd takes on Southern Mississippi at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. EDT, with the game airing on CBS Sports Network.
Smith was a midyear junior college signee out of Blinn (Texas) Community College last December, and enjoyed a solid spring. He looked to be the top reserve at tackle behind either starter at tackle, Marques Aiken and Brandon Sparrow, before his back injury put him in the operating room a week before preseason camp.
"Ken Smith, he worked extremely hard in the offseason, and he had changed his body," Holliday said. "Up until he got ruled out with the issue he had to get fixed, he had worked extremely hard to get to the point he had. He had a lot invested, and all of a sudden, it was taken away from him."
Smith showed his excitement in the Herd's practice Tuesday, grudgingly restraining himself from hitting quarterback Blake Frohnapfel on one pass rush.
"Some people told me to maybe stop playing," Smith said. "But I knew what I wanted to do, and the doctor told me to get the surgery done and I'll have a good chance to come back. That's what I wanted to do and I feel great."
Mitchell, a 6-3, 238-pound junior from Navarre, Fla., became a regular in 2011. He made 22 tackles, blocked a kick against Memphis and recovered the critical blocked punt in the bowl game against Florida International. For now, he is third-string middle linebacker, and he is back on the punt team.
Mitchell said he suffered a concussion in the spring, so there was a lot of caution after he suffered another in the first preseason scrimmage. Concussions are one of the foremost points of emphasis in sports medicine today.
"I appreciate it," Mitchell said. "As much as I love football and everything, my health, you need that."
While the Herd regained some depth in the front seven, its desire to fortify the cornerback position hit a roadblock with Van's situation.
"Travon's got an issue, injury-wise, where he cannot practice. He has not been cleared by our doctors for physical contact," Holliday said. "He's had that issue since he's been here, but it's has gotten to the point where, at [the time of] the Purdue game, he had numbness in his arm.
"I don't want to get into what it is, but it's something he's been dealing with that we've got to get cleared up."
Van did not travel to the Purdue game Sept. 27, the second since he was moved from running back. He rushed for 93 yards on 39 carries, a 2.4-yard average that is less than half of the 5-plus averaged by the freshman trio of Remi Watson, Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler.
The week off also benefited the right side of the offensive line, where the starters have had considerable down time. "[Tackle] Garrett Scott, he'll be as healthy as he's been all year, and [guard] John [Bruhin] just needs some rest," Holliday said.