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Stability welcome on MU front

HUNTINGTON — Marshall is enjoying two luxuries in regard to its offensive line, both unthinkable when coach Doc Holliday took over three years ago.

One, the program can populate three units in practice with considerable manpower left over.

Two, the Thundering Herd has, with few exceptions, operated with the same first string the entire preseason camp.

The latter item has made the offensive line easy to track: The unit has consisted of left tackle Gage Niemeyer, left guard Sebastian Johansson, center Chris Jasperse, right guard Alex Schooler and right tackle Garrett Scott. Cam Dees subbed for Jasperse a day or so, but that's it.

Those five are likely to stick together as the Herd conducts an officiated scrimmage at 7 p.m. today. Admission is free to Big Green Scholarship Foundation members, 2013 season-ticket holders and MU students with a valid ID.

Position coach Alex Mirabal, who came to MU from Florida International, considers that continuity a blessing.

"That's a tribute to their toughness," Mirabal said after Friday's morning practice. "When I took the job here, we defined toughness as showing up every day whether you feel good or not. That, to me, is the true sign of toughness, and in football — just like in life — you're not going to feel good every day.

"And nobody's going to care, so you'd better come in and do your job and do your work. They've really taken to that."

That was pretty much the lineup in spring drills, so that quintet knows each other well. Really, really well.

"In the past, we've played a lot of musical chairs," Jasperse said. "We've been fortunate this year not to have too many people banged up. We've had the same five, maybe six with one guy rotating in. Even one guy rotating in is way better than seven, eight, nine guys coming in.

"Coach makes emphasis in individual drills, go through them with somebody you'll play with in 'team' setting, get used to us. That's building us as a unit."  

As cohesive as that group is, they won't stay together for 90 offensive plays a game, week in and week out. Perhaps that brings the most suspense to the unit this fall.

Will Jordan Jeffries share some snaps with Niemeyer and how many? And would he come in at right tackle if Scott goes down, or would Clint Van Horn go in?

When Josh Lovell returns, possibly Monday, can he push Johansson, or at least play a left/right utility role? Can Dees stay healthy enough to remain the No. 2 center? And so on.

The Herd carries 10 offensive linemen on the bus/plane every week, so these decisions must be made with care. After the Herd's officiated scrimmage Saturday, a number of young linemen will be sent to the scout team, as game preparation ramps up.

But the future has not been neglected the last two weeks, with a third unit getting plenty of work. In 2010, Holliday's first season at MU, there was no third unit.

Some of that work was seen Friday with Dees on the sidelines. Tyler Combs, who played "iron man" at center in the spring, was left at tackle and Michael Selby was brought up from the third unit. By several accounts, Selby, the 6-foot-2, 275-pound Sanderson, Ga., native fared well.

Mirabal gave extra credit to Jasperse for setting an example for Selby, and for the other veterans.

"The older guys like Chris, those guys have taken [the youngsters] under their wing, talked to [Selby], gave little tutorials," Mirabal said. "I tell the younger guys, 'Listen to what the old guys tell you. Once you don't listen to them, they'll never come help you again.'

"I told the older guys when I took the job, their legacy is: What do they pass down to those who come behind them? Their legacy is not necessarily the wins, or championship, it's what you pass onto those guys so when you leave, you leave a strong product behind."

The more pressing issue, though, is the strength of the current product. That constant five-man lineup reflects the coaches' confidence, it seems.

"Five men, one mind, that's our motto, and they've taken to that," Mirabal said. "And they know if one of them's not out here, that's going to increase the workload on somebody else.

"That's what we want — we want that cohesion, that camaraderie and we're getting that right now."

Briefly

n Tonight, offensive series may go longer than a scripted eight plays if the offense is driving. Last Saturday, a script ended those possessions at eight plays, as the team gets used to MU's hyperactive tempo.

n Freshman safeties Tiquan Lang and Michael Johnson were out Friday, but both may be back today. Johnson left Huntington for personal reasons.

n Dees was held out Friday, being monitored for concussion symptoms. A more serious situation has been that of linebacker Billy Mitchell, who suffered a concussion in last Saturday's scrimmage. Mitchell missed the first six games of the 2012 season with a concussion.

n Two familiar names have popped up at the University of Pikeville: quarterback A.J. Graham and linebacker Quanthony Fletcher. Graham was dismissed after the 2011 season; Fletcher was a highly touted recruit who did not pan out.

Graham has two seasons of eligibility at the NAIA school, Fletcher one.

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


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