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Herd won’t be painted into a corner this year

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Monterius "Pacman" Lovett was one of three cornerbacks rotating in two spots for Marshall last year.

Unless one was hurt; then the Thundering Herd was stuck with two corners, no matter what. And even then, those corners were playing in some degree of pain.

For instance, Lovett played the agonizing entirety of the Herd's 38-28 win over Memphis. But at other times, he was too hurt to go - such as the time he put in one play against Tulsa, suffered a high ankle sprain and watched teammates Derek Thomas and Keith Baxter try to fend off the eventual Conference USA champions.

That was pretty much the theme of the season.

"Don't remind me," joked Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday. "There were times we didn't have a corner practice all week and [then] go play, and that's not a good thing. It's nice to see some guys out there healthy, running around."

Emphasis on healthy. Lovett suffered a high ankle sprain on one leg and a stress fracture on the other leg and still gave it a shot. Thomas and Baxter weren't always feeling much better.

And that's a big reason the Herd fell toward the bottom in Conference USA -- and nationally -- in pass defense. MU yielded 253 yards per game and was 10th in the league in pass efficiency defense, mostly because of the 30 touchdowns given up. Only five teams yielded more.

With Darryl Roberts sidelined for the year, the three gimpy amigos weren't exactly doing their Darrelle Revis imitation, especially when they went down to two.

When Chuck Heater took the defensive coordinator job, along with that of tutoring the secondary, he noticed those problems right away on game videos.

"That can get thinned out really fast," Heater said. "You never have enough corners, so we're keeping it pieced together pretty well - Baxter's not 100 percent, so that's an example of where we were a year ago.

"So yeah - that's an issue when it comes to sub package, and so far we're hanging in there. It can change very quickly, if one guy goes down, if two go down, you're really scrambling."

Redshirt freshman Corey Tindal has looked very good at times, good enough to be anointed the nickel back when the Herd plays a 4-2-5. Senior Thomas is one of three Penn State transfers on the Herd roster, so he has high expectations; Roberts had, by all accounts, a very good year in 2011. Baxter is a junior who is hardly a bust, yet is chasing his recruiting hype.

Then there is Lovett, the fifth-year senior who was tagged "Pacman" early in his first camp, as he reminded coaches and teammates of Pacman Jones. He is holding onto first-team reps, starting Tuesday afternoon opposite Roberts, with Tindal inside as the nickel.

In one seven-on-seven sequence, Lovett showed he's not giving up the first unit without a fight. Twice in a row he flat-out denied Shawn Kersey on red-zone passes from Cato.

Lovett said he started camp slowly, then picked up new techniques demanded by Heater. And he's feeling the confidence of knowing he probably won't have to play 80-plus snaps in a game. (Knock on wood.)

"It's all good. I look at it as all of us are starters," Lovett said. "Me, Keith, Swagg [Roberts], D.T., we're all starters. I'm running with the first team, but I see us as all starters.

"I feel really good about the corner position. We've got depth."

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock. 

 


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