Marshall's Brooks makes switch to offense
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - In his first practice on Marshall's offensive line, Blake Brooks had to listen to more than the sleet bouncing off his shoulder pads.
A defensive lineman wearing No. 90 his first two years with the Thundering Herd, Blake is learning the intricacies of playing on the other side. The South Charleston High graduate now sports No. 52.
"Offensively, you've got to think a little bit more," Brooks said Tuesday after the Herd's first winter, er, spring practice. "Defense, you just crank the engine and go. Offense, you've got have your ears open, got to listen a lot more, got to pay attention.
"Playing offense, you've got to listen to the center, listen to the cadence, you've got to listen to all these things. I think it's pretty much opening my ears and listening."
Originally a Fairmont State signee, Brooks walked on at Marshall and eventually played in 2012, picking up one tackle in four games. He earned his scholarship by then and made a brief appearance on the two-deep chart, but was eventually nudged into the third unit.
He even played on the offensive scout team as the year wore on, giving his defensive mates the best possible look in preparing for that week's opponent. Before the end of the 2012 season, he was offered the chance to hop across the ball, to his current spot at right guard.
"It was a coaches' move, just as much as my move," said Brooks, who'll be a junior this fall. "I think I should have been over there from the get-go, but things happen, just got to live with that."
He begins the spring playing right guard on the second unit. At 6-foot-1 or maybe 6-2, he says his weight is in the "teens" - or 310s. "I've lost a lot of weight and been lifting a little harder, and I think I'm more muscularly solid than I have been."
The big news in the opening practice, or so it seems, was the weather. A considerable sleet shower fell early, with a dose of cold rain late in the workout.
Keep in mind that MU students spent last week on spring break, with roughly 27 Floridians on the Herd's spring roster. But they all survived, with good spirit.
"It wasn't doing anything to the balls," said quarterback Rakeem Cato. "It's wasn't that cold, either. We were moving."
"It's amazing. It may be our first spring practice ever [under such conditions]," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "We had a little bit of everything - snow, sleet, hail, and there was a little bit of rain out there. I thought we were able to get through it OK."
Perhaps by this time next March, the Herd can start a chilly spring in the new indoor practice building.
Yes, it really could happen. In fact, athletic director Mike Hamrick announced an April 26 groundbreaking for that project, along with a new hall of fame, academic support center and sports medicine translational research center.
The $8 million soccer complex has long been underway on the site of the old Veterans Memorial Field House.
The entire project is being built from the university's bonding capability, plus a $20 million Vision Campaign. Hamrick announced that campaign has passed $15 million, thanks to an anonymous $5 million gift from a Marshall alum.
With a large turnover in his staff, Holliday has had to fine-tune his new coaches' responsibilities. Some have long since been known, but there have been some additions.
Chuck Heater will coordinate the defense and coach the secondary, with graduate assistant Tyson Gale helping and even Holliday jumping in from time to time. Adam Fuller coaches the linebackers, with graduate assistant Rodney Prince helping.
Holdover defensive line coach J.C. Price will concentrate on the tackles, with the returning-from-Temple Sean Cronin mentoring the ends.
The offense is more defined, with former defensive coach Todd Hartley working with tight ends, Mike Furrey the wide receivers, Alex Mirabal the offensive line and Thomas Brown the running backs. Coordinator Bill Legg is coaching the quarterbacks.
Special teams-wise, Hartley has the punt and kickoff return teams and Fuller has the kickoff and punt-block teams. Hartley is recruiting coordinator and, Holliday said, has been since the beginning of January. (JuJuan Seider was listed as such until he took his job at West Virginia.)
There weren't that many red "no contact" jerseys other than the usual quarterbacks. Defensive backs A.J. Leggett and Andre Scott were notables, along with center Cam Dees.
Holliday expects linebacker Raheem Waiters to make an appearance by Friday. Waiters probably will be sporting red, coming off knee surgery.
"The red jersey doesn't mean you won't go out there and get better every day," Holliday said.
Two enrolled players have not joined the program, and are presumed to be midyear "props" - receivers Angelo Jean-Louis and Deontay McManus. But two such "props" from last winter had their first reps, linebacker Kent Turne and defensive back Corey Tindal.
Other previously signed newcomers include quarterback Kevin Anderson, linebacker Stefan Houston, former Penn State wide receivers Shaney Kersey and Devon Smith, safety Taj Letman and offensive lineman Tyler Combs. Combs, a Louisa, Ky., native, is trying his hand at center.
In addition to Brooks, number changes include quarterback Gunnar Holcombe (16 to 10), offensive lineman Trevor Mendelson (69 to 64), defensive lineman James Rouse (92 to 11) and safety Shawn Samuels (29 to 17).
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.