By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
It’s not that Marshall coach Doc Holliday never thought he had any talented offensive linemen. He just didn’t think there was enough of them.
But that will be one of the changes that Holliday sees as a strength for the first time as he begins his fourth season in Huntington.
“To be a good offense, we had to play at an up-tempo every game last year because when we started to slow things down a bit, we got out of sync,” Holliday said. “We weren’t quite good enough up front to block them, get hats on people and slow it down.
“To be a great offense, which is what we want to be, we’ve got to be able to change tempos, be able to slow it down when we need that, to help our defense a little bit. And I think our offensive line, being a strength now, can help us do that.”
New offensive line coach Alex Mirabal walked into a better situation that what existed a year ago, when the Thundering Herd had one of the top offenses in the country, but the lack of depth up front hurt Marshall’s ability to go as full throttle as it wanted.
That doesn’t seem to be a concern this season, which will begin Saturday, Aug. 31, at home against Miami (Ohio).
“The depth’s huge for us. We have nine or 10 guys who can come in and play,” center Chris Jasperse said. “It’s going to happen in a game where a guy loses a shoe or something comes up where’s got to come out, and you’ve got to bring a guy in — right now — and not miss a beat at all.
“In our offense, we’re going fast and we’re moving. We’ve got to be able to trust the next guy to come in and be able to do that. We have some guys right now that we can do that with.”
The line rotation will include the usual suspects from recent seasons, including Jasperse, a 6-foot-4, 289-pound redshirt junior, sophomore Cameron Dees (6-1, 275), redshirt senior Jordan Jeffries (6-8, 310), redshirt senior Alex Schooler (6-7, 303), redshirt junior Josh Lovell (6-6, 309) and senior Garrett Scott (6-5, 294).
Also, Beckley native Clint Van Horn (6-4, 294) received praise from Holliday in the offseason.
Senior Gage Niemeyer (6-6, 297) gained some playing time last season. There are also a handful of newcomers who are expected to play important roles in front of quarterback Rakeem Cato and open lanes for running backs Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson.
“We’ve got to play more offensive linemen, and we can now,” Holliday said. “Alex thinks he’s got 10 offensive linemen, possibly as many as 12, that can actually go play and function in a game, and I think that’s huge. No longer does Chris Jasperse have to play 90-95 plays a game. Hopefully, he can go give us 60 real good ones and then Dees can go in there and give us another 30 to 40.”
The up-tempo pace of the offense magnifies the importance of having offensive linemen who are in prime condition.
“We’ve got to be in just as good condition as the wide receivers and the running backs, because after they make their 15-yard run we’re running right behind them,” Jasperse said. “Cato’s calling the next play and we’ve got to get going. It’s a lot of fun. It’s exciting to see what our backs and our receivers and what Cato and our quarterbacks can do with the ball.”
Jasperse also said the group is feeding off Mirabal, who looks more like a lower-weight wrestler than an offensive line coach.
“He’s very fiery.” Jasperse said. “He brings a tenacity to our room, and it rubs off on us. It’s good for us because we just get after it. He gets after it every day, and that makes you want to get after it. It’s good for our whole room. It’s helped us out.”
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