HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Yes, there is a place-kicking competition in the Marshall camp, at least in the kickoff area. This a most welcome development for Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday.
At least he thinks it is.
"Don't tell anybody. Don't jinx me now," Holliday joked after Wednesday's second practice. "We went all the way to Albania to get a kicker. We've got to find a way so there's no returns."
To delicately state it, Marshall's kickoff unit was substandard last year. Very substandard.
In conference play, the Herd had three touchbacks in 57 kickoffs. That was the worst in Conference USA, as was average kickoff yardage (55.3), total return yardage (1,321) and net average (30.8). To translate the latter stat, opponents averaged a start at the 34-yard line.
If only the Herd were so lucky to do that every time. Tulsa's Trey Watts returned one kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, while Central Florida's Quinton McDuffie struck from 97 and 98. Houston had returns of 59 and 61 yards, Alabama-Birmingham had one of 42 and Memphis had one of 52.
The Herd needs to rebuild its coverage unit, but it really needs more touchbacks. That need has brought two walk-ons to challenge incumbent Justin Haig - Amoreto Curraj of Tampa, Fla., and Nick Smith of Plain City, Ohio.
There was a wind during their afternoon kicking session, though Holliday described it as a "sideways" wind. Still, Curraj had the kickoff of the day, a boomer that fell in front of the crossbar by maybe 2 yards.
Linebackers coach Adam Fuller is running that unit, and is cautiously excited.
"There was a wind, but they have good legs, and they're fresh legs," Fuller said. "Right now, we're just trying to manage them because they're young and they'll probably kick all day. We'll manage them and make sure they're not overkicking."
Fuller doesn't lack special-teams credentials - he served as coordinator from 2005-07 at Richmond, then served as head coach at Assumption College at Worcester, Mass, for a season. The latter is in Division II, where head coaches do a little bit (or a lot) of everything.
Players donned shoulder pads for the first time in Wednesday's split-squad workouts, and that attire will be repeated today.
The veteran-heavy afternoon shift of the split-squad workout seemed like the perfect time for defensive coordinator Chuck Heater to apply the heat on quarterbacks Rakeem Cato and Blake Frohnapfel.
In 11-on-11 play, the passers did well to get the ball off at times. They were tag-sacked a number of times as corners, safeties and any combination of linebackers went after them.
In the philosophy of many coaches, Holliday included, the team is in trouble when the defense doesn't dominate this early in preseason camp (2012 comes to mind as an example). He enjoyed watching his quarterbacks squirm.