The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

March 26, 2013

Heat-er is on the defense

Shoring up ‘D’ will be key part of spring as Herd begins drills today

BECKLEY — While the noose of an extended winter is making it impossible for spring sports to be played, the weather is perfect for football.

Snow or no snow, Marshall will begin its spring drills today at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The first of 15 sessions will start at 3:30 p.m.

The area likely to get the bulk of the attention is the defense, which ranked among the worst in the nation in 2012. Shoring that up falls into the hands of new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater. Also the secondary coach, Heater brings 37 years of college coaching experience to Huntington.

The former Temple assistant has his work cut out for him. The Herd’s defense was at or near the bottom of virtually every statistic in Conference USA, including scoring defense, allowing a league-worst 43.1 points per game (119th in the country).

Marshall was also 10th in rushing defense at 203.1 yards per game (104th in the country) and total defense (482.6, 101st).

As much help as the defense needs, there are other issues to be addressed. Head coach Doc Holliday said the offense cannot be ignored, despite its success last season.

“We talk to the offense every day about getting better,” Holliday said in a story on the team’s official website, “We don’t want the offense to take a step back, but there’s no doubt we’re going to cater to the defense and do some things we may not normally do to help them — but we’ve got to get better on offense, too.

“We’ve spent a lot of time the last 2-3 months on how we’re going to structure practice to make sure the defense is getting the physicality it needs, the two-back stuff it needs, the power football it needs in order to become successful.”

The offense was the best in the league, averaging highs in scoring offense (40.1 points, seventh) and total offense (534.3, sixth).

Quarterback Rakeem Cato is back after leading the nation with 350.1 yards per game. He also threw 37 touchdown passes.

Marshall will be looking to fill voids left by the departure of senior receivers Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson. Dobson, a South Charleston graduate, is projected as a mid- to late-round selection in next month’s NFL draft.

Depth at the position took a minor but unexpected hit when Jermain Kelson left the program recently. Leading the way, however, will be junior Tommy Shuler, who led the nation in 2012 with 10.4 catches per game.

The running game found success throughout the season, led by C-USA Freshman of the Year Kevin Grooms.

Chemistry will also be a concern, with Heater one of six new assistant coaches.

Marshall will practice today, Thursday and Friday this week before moving to the regular routine of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Weekday practices will start at 3:30 p.m., with Saturday drills at 9:15 a.m.

Practices are open to the public, with the exception of the April 13 and 20 scrimmages, which will be open to those who present a valid Big Green membership card or a copy of their 2013 football season ticket renewal form. Due to the ongoing construction of the sky suites to the press box, anyone wishing to attend any practice should enter the stadium through the northeast concourse gate (Gate D) and should sit on the east side of the stadium. The west side will be closed.

The annual Green-White Game will be played Saturday, April 27. The event will start at 2 p.m.

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