Herd offense won't be overlooked
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's No. 1 issue in spring practice is beyond obvious - it is the overhaul of a defense that ranked 101st in the major-college ranks in total yardage and 119th in points yielded.
To that end, the Thundering Herd has a new defensive coordinator and two other new coaches on that side of the ball. Add in a few midyear newcomers, and position and two-deep changes should be plentiful.
But coach Doc Holliday says the offense will not be overlooked, even with its 534 yards and 41 points per game, not to mention Conference USA's offensive player of the year in quarterback Rakeem Cato.
The biggest area of concern, from a standpoint of replacing departed personnel, is the wide receiver position, where the Herd lost NFL prospect Aaron Dobson, Antavious Wilson and Andre Snipes-Booker. Other positions are populated with returning starters and veterans.
But that doesn't mean the offense can't be beefed up. "Beef" being the operative term, as Holliday looks to upgrade the running attack.
Not that the Herd was destitute there, netting 2,030 yards with 24 touchdowns, and showing four battle-tested runners in Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler, Remi Watson and Essray Taliaferro.
But the Herd still rushed for fewer than 100 yards four times, thus putting Cato and the passing game in tough situations. That contributed to the 20 turnovers, a few too many for any coach's liking.
"Offensively, we've got to improve in a lot of areas," Holliday said. "We've got to become more physical up front. We have to be able to run the football; at times we've got to be able to change tempos not be a fast-paced, 'red' team. At times we've got to be able to slow it down, put hats on hats, knocking people off the ball. When we've got to get a yard, get a yard.
"[New assistant] Alex Mirabal has done a super job with the offensive line. We've got to get more physical up front - we've got to get better in all areas. Quarterbacks have to continue to grow, receivers have to make plays, those [freshmen] who played a year ago, along with Taliaferro, have to continue to grow in all areas."
MU finally got around Wednesday to announcing the arrival of assistant Sean Cronin, who toiled on Holliday's first staff in 2010. Cronin coached the line in that season; in his return after two years at Temple, he will concentrate on the ends.
"We are pleased to welcome Sean and his family back to Huntington," Holliday said. "His addition will not only strengthen our defensive line, but bolster our recruiting efforts as well. We're fortunate to have him."
While he started his return to Huntington several weeks ago, his official arrival was delayed in part by the very recent birth of his second child. Cronin's wife is Emily Heater, daughter of new Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.
Speaking of which, Chuck Heater apparently commanded Herd defenders' attention immediately upon his arrival.
"First, he was quiet," said end and 2012 captain Jeremiah Taylor. "Then when he got in front of the whole team, that's when he cranked it up a little bit, let us know what he's all about, and we got it."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@ wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.