HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -Free safety Taj Letman has been tagged with the nickname "Big Bird" by new Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, a label that just might stick.
It's not every day you get a 6-foot-3 athlete in the back end - shoot, he could have been moved to linebacker last year, for all anybody knows.
But height, by itself, is not the reason Letman earned the Sesame Street label. Let's put it this way: He is not too tall to play the position, but can't play it at 6-3 all the time. At times, he plays very upright.
That may fly in junior college, but not at this level.
"Is it sticking?" Heater asked about the nickname.
Sounds like it, listening to head coach Doc Holliday.
"He's got a lot of ability; he's got to learn to play with [proper] pad level," Holliday said Saturday after MU's workout. "That was the one thing we tried to work on - he looked like Big Bird out there. He plays up too high, and when he plays up that high he can't transition.
"We wanted him to focus today on getting his pad level down, because he can. He can play low, he can play with his pads down. He's a talented guy that covers a lot of area, once he learns to play with technique and fundamentals. I'm anxious to see the film because I think he was a lot better."
Letman, a native of Elberton, Ga., who signed in December out of Holmes (Miss.) Community College, generated a lot of video clips, good and bad. In a safety unit with near-total turnover, he is playing on the first unit alongside D.J. Hunter, the safety-turned-linebacker-turned-safety.
Whether that pairing sticks into and through August remains to be seen. A.J. Leggett and Andre Scott, both highly touted redshirt freshmen, are working on the second unit in red "no contact" jerseys, as they are still healing from surgery. The good thing: They can work in one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills.
But they can't hit this spring, and the Hunter-Letman duo can. Hunter's physical nature is not in dispute, but Letman could have laid the biggest hit of the spring in Saturday's practice.
Late in the morning, the Thundering Herd went into full-contact scrimmaging, and a pass play sent the ball to Dameon Garrett. Perpetually seeking to get on the field, the junior-to-be turned upfield and was greeted by No. 30.
Fortunately for Garrett, Letman held up. The 200 or so at Joan C. Edwards Stadium oohed, knowing the contact could have been cataclysmically violent.
"Oh my gosh, I could have killed him," Letman said. "But Coach says, 'Man, we don't need to kill our guys.' I could have killed him. He'd be lying there asleep."
With his midyear signing, Letman was tossed into MU's strength and conditioning program right away, and he said the results have been immediate. In junior college, emphasis on weight training varies widely.
As Letman relates, there is another aspect to physical development, one that is rarely mentioned.
"I was fortunate to have a pretty good strength and conditioning [program]," he said. "[My juco coach] gave me a lot of stuff that we do here, but it's not the same with the nutrition. Nowhere near."
At the quarterback position, newcomer Kevin Anderson was excused from practice to go to his senior prom back at his Boca Raton, Fla.
Really, he was.
Remember, Anderson is an early high school graduate who was able to enroll in Marshall in January. So, yes, this is his final prom.