HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When an injured Rakeem Cato yielded to Blake Frohnapfel in Marshall's 2012 season finale at East Carolina, third-string quarterback Gunnar Holcombe was in no danger of losing his redshirt.
Not even close. He was watching the game from the couch at his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home.
"They told me the Monday before the game I would be redshirting. I was actually at home," Holcombe said Tuesday. "I went home for Thanksgiving holiday. Freed up a spot [on the team plane] for somebody that played."
With a bowl bid on the line, that was a bit of a risk. One of the major goals of this Thundering Herd's camp is to avoid that issue altogether, at least grooming a third game-ready passer.
The top two spots are not in dispute. Junior Rakeem Cato is the returning Conference USA most valuable player, and third-year sophomore Blake Frohnapfel could be a top-five QB in the league now.
Those two are taking the afternoon shift in the split-squad workouts, which continue today in shoulder pads and helmets. The morning belongs to the two freshmen, Holcombe and Kevin Anderson.
This is a prime exhibit in coach Doc Holliday's split-squad philosophy. It gives his freshmen a near-even split over nine or 10 hours of practice time, much more than they are likely to receive when the team works out together for the first time Friday.
"I think it's a huge benefit," said Bill Legg, the offensive coordinator who now tutors quarterbacks. "Back in the day, the freshmen had two, three days by themselves. And they got to hear the offense, and they got the techniques at a pace that was different than the varsity was being taught.
"When the varsity came in, they were hearing it for the second time instead of it all being brand new. So now, with those guys being out here [in split squads], they're getting a lot of reps. If we practiced as an entire football team right now, what are we going to focus on?
"We're going to focus on that two, two and a half, max three-deep. Which means that all those guys who were here all summer, you're going to go with those guys first because of the experience factor. Now, we've got a real shot at getting a legitimate evaluation on whether or not they can become ready to help us this fall."
That won't just be done with the naked eye, for certain. A particular pass may look bad, but was it poor mechanics, a poorly run route by a young receiver or something else? So when Anderson threw an interception to walk-on safety Mark Shaver and then Holcombe threw a touchdown to University of Charleston transfer Cody Carter, does that really have a bearing?
Maybe or maybe not, but these reps are getting important. If a clear No. 3 emerges by the end of Thursday morning - or if a clear No. 4 falls to the wayside - that could set the tone for the rest of the month, if not the season.