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Healthy Rouse a boost for D-line

CHARLESTON, W.V.a -- WITH 100 possible numerals and more than 100 players on a college football team, duplicate jersey numbers are inevitable.

Many duplicates involve a starter and a player who has as much chance of playing as I do. But not all.

In Marshall's case, there are two No. 11s, and both players swapped numbers to get it. And both will be substantial contributors, if not starters.

Devon Smith is the offense's 11, switching from No. 33. As you probably know, he's one of three Penn State transfers on the Thundering Herd roster, and the smallest - listed at 5-foot-7, 155 pounds.

The other 11 belongs to James Rouse, of all people. I say that because he is 6-5, 268 solidly built pounds, and could repeatedly bench-press Smith for three days.    

That number isn't used at D-tackle often. What possessed Rouse to ditch his former No. 92?

"I've been having a lot of injuries with 92," he said last week. "I just felt I needed to start over with a new number. No specific reason why 11, just wanted to switch it up."

As he mentioned, he would like to switch up his injury luck. The Harrisonburg, Va., native's sophomore season ended with an Achilles tendon injury; his junior year was wiped out with a herniated disc in his back.

A wretched shame, it was, as coaches and teammates alike have long been eager to see Rouse full-go. Lord willing, he will stay healthy and wreak havoc for 12 games, and then some.

Right now, he is running mostly on the backup units, but he won't get shut out of playing time. He has too much pent-up frustration to vent, and his teammates sense it.

"He's a wolf," end Jeremiah Taylor said. "Him just getting back on that field, you can see the hunger in his eyes, how he attacks the plays."

"Oh my gosh, we're happy for Rouse," said Alex Bazzie, the other first-string defensive end. "He's staying healthy, he's been taking care of his body. We all have our arms around him, so he can get going, so he can make it through the season - even so he can make it to the first game.

"He's a man among boys when he really plays."

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  • If coaches ever put the combination of Rouse and Brandon Sparrow at tackle and Taylor and Bazzie at end, what would you have?

    Four seniors across the defensive line.

    I'm not sure when the last time the Herd played an all-senior D-line, or when it was even possible. It might have happened a time or two during the Bob Pruett era, but it surely wasn't possible under Mark Snyder. (I think I referred to Snyder's team as "youthful" at least four of his five seasons.)

    All four of those seniors should contribute on the field, maybe in a huge way. But I'm even more confident these guys will leave their imprint on younger talent.

    And boy, has the Herd assembled a stable of young linemen!

    Let's put it this way: Give me Gary Thompson and Arnold Blackman at the ends with Steve Dillon and Josh Brown at the tackles - one sophomore, a junior-college import, a 2012 "prop" and a redshirt freshman - and I'd go into battle with them. They need seasoning, yes, but it would be fun to watch.

    And that leaves out Jarquez Samuel and several other contenders the defensive coaches will have to sort out in the next couple of weeks. And apparently, all are looking to the aforementioned seniors for guidance.

    "I feel sorry for the coaches when it comes down to picking who's on the field at first," Bazzie said. "It's just good to know you've got a lot of guys with talent, a lot of guys who are willing to learn from their older classmen. Most time when you're a freshman, it's kind of harder to tell them things, because they don't want to hear it from anybody older - they think they're older because they're in college.

    "But these guys, they come in there and they want to learn. The want to know the littlest things, and they want to know all the moves - 'How did you make that play?'"

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  • Here's a blast from the past for Herd fans: Phillip Gamble is playing professional football in Germany.

    You may remember Gamble, the four-year letterman from 2005-08 who played mostly linebacker and special teams. He now plays for Bielefield of Germany's second division of the American game, teaching business English as a side job.

    He is playing tailback, and has 371 rushing yards and 216 receiving yards with six touchdowns. There are playing-time issues - his team includes five Americans, but only two can be on the field at the same time.

    Gamble hopes to get into coaching when his playing days are over, according to The Post-Standard of Bainbridge, Ga. He has a sports management degree and a master's in business management, both from Marshall.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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