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Marshall notebook: QB transfer Birdsong waiting in the wings

By Doug Smock, Staff writer

HUNTINGTON — Quarterback Michael Birdsong ready to settle into one offensive scheme, and one only, for more than one season.

Should the Marshall coaching staff and philosophy remain intact beyond this season, the James Madison transfer should be well versed in coordinator Bill Legg’s system.

Birdsong comes to Marshall with a lot of tools — after sitting out this fall, he’ll be a fourth-year junior who is a legitimate 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, has a rocket arm and game experience.

He also has experience with several different systems. Too many for his liking, actually — this is his fourth such system in four years.

“My true freshman year, we had Justin Thorpe who was the starter at JMU. It was more of a ‘pistol,’ more of a read option than anything else,” Birdsong said. “Then we had a new offensive coordinator come in, Mike O’Cain from Virginia Tech, it was probably 40 percent [snapping] under center and some shotgun. There was a lot of stuff in that offense.

“And this past offense, the one that just came to JMU [under head coach Everett Withers], it was Ohio State offense. A lot of read option, way too much running, and that’s ultimately why I left.”

Birdsong left Harrisonburg after throwing 376 of the Dukes’ 385 passes. He completed 227 (60.4 percent) for 2,728 yards and 22 touchdowns, vs. 15 interceptions. As he sought a new home and an FBS school to boot, he looked at Marshall and Old Dominion, the latter nearer to his suburban Petersburg, Va., home.

He has to sit out this year, but he hasn’t used a redshirt season yet. He is facing a year of running the scout team, but he’ll learn from his elders. Come spring, he is expected to battle with Gunnar Holcombe and Cole Garvin for the challenge of succeeding Rakeem Cato.

Birdsong is ready.

“I played before, so I know what I need to fix,” he said. “I’ve got a year to go back and look at my mistakes, come out, be ready and go into spring. And watch Cato, one of the best quarterbacks, do it all year.”

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Running backs coach Chris Barclay returned to the fold Tuesday after the birth last Friday of his first child, daughter Houstyn Harper. Baby and wife Ashlee are fine back in the couple’s hometown of Louisville, Ky., where her family is helping with the first weeks of care.

Houston entered the world at a diminutive 4 pounds, 5 ounces, and 17 inches long.

“She’s a fighter, though,” Barclay said. “Strong, man — she came out kicking tail and taking names.”

When Barclay returned to Huntington, he knew he had a 250-pound present in the running backs room — one Devon Johnson. The former tight end from Richlands, Va., took first-team snaps in split-squad workouts Monday and Tuesday.

In effect, he is taking snaps from Steward Butler, the speedy but enigmatic incumbent from the spring.

As Barclay tells it, he likes Johnson’s athletic ability and loves the thought of blitzers getting punished for trespassing on Cato’s property.

“He definitely has the girth,” Barclay said. “We have to clean up his technique and his eyes and his reads so he can play fast. But I think he’ll be fine in that area, no question about it.”

Position coaches tend to get territorial about their players — there have been stories of yelling matches surrounding personnel moves. Barclay and tight ends coach Todd Hartley may have had a friendly disagreement.

Maybe.

“Yeah, we had a couple of long, drag-down battles,” Barclay said with a smile. “I think we ended up doing what’s best for our offense. We feel that having [Johnson] and [tight end Eric] Frohnapfel on the field at the same time maxes our ability and our personnel.”

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Game time has been set for Marshall’s Nov. 22 game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. EST at Legion Field for the Herd’s 11th game.

The Sept. 20 game at Akron is under a 12-day window, meaning the time will be set as late as Sept. 8. With the Zips being the home team, that is a property of the ESPN family of networks, including the internet-only ESPN3.

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


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