Young LBs catching on
HUNTINGTON - As the number of Marshall spring practices drew equal with his jersey number, Armonze Daniel's profile among the linebackers kept growing.
To show how much, the defensive coaches even gave him a few reps Tuesday at defensive end, hand down and all. The more the man sporting No. 13 gets comfortable and confident, the more coaches are seeing how many ways they can use him.
"He shows some natural pass-rushing skills," Herd coach Doc Holliday pointed out.
With the spring drawing near a close, the youthful linebacker unit has undergone an interesting evolution. With Billy Mitchell on the sidelines these days, Devin Arrington is the lone senior, with Daniel, Jermaine Holmes, Deon Meadows, Cortez Carter and Raheem Waiters getting their full dose of reps.
Not all of those came to MU as a linebacker and several did not play the position in high school. Daniel was a safety at Avon High School near Indianapolis, but was ticketed to move forward.
He started his MU career on the strong side, and was redshirted. The extra practices that came with Marshall's bowl participation gave him and his young teammates a major jump on spring.
Daniel was flopped to the weak side and has thrived in the final three weeks. In the Thundering Herd's first scrimmage, he stood out with 13 tackles, two for loss, and intercepted a deflected pass. He followed that up with a seven-tackle performance last weekend.
He has gone from fighting to stay on the second string to getting a clear shot at the first unit.
"Things are falling into place, kind of clicking for me," Daniel said Tuesday. "That's allowing me to play faster."
Therein lies a simple rule of the position: Don't slow down and think. You can't afford it in major-college football, and Daniel is catching on to that.
"Armonze is one of those kids, he wants to do everything perfect," said Chris Rippon, MU's defensive coordinator. "It's out of his character to play on the edge. He's also a guy that had been a safety, and when you move a guy to the linebacker position and things are happening so much faster, so much quicker, more intense, that tends to happen - they look like they're hesitating."
So how well is Daniel overcoming that? Rippon used an old protégé from his Syracuse days to describe it.
"But I tell you what: When we moved Keith Bulluck from safety to linebacker, this guy is ahead of what he did. When I went from [coaching] the secondary back to the linebackers, I took him with me. And that's who I can say Armonze reminds me of."
Meadows is another linebacker having a strong late spring. Jermaine Holmes had risen to starting middle linebacker, but one recent day the No. 51 of Meadows supplanted No. 46 on the first unit. That battle will continue into August.
Rippon said Meadows, a 5-11, 225-pound rising sophomore from Smyrna, Tenn., has been good all along at "seeing the big picture" in the defense, and the middle linebacker's role. Fundamentals were the concern.
"Last year when he played, he played on special teams, but he played very high," Rippon said. "He was a waist-bending kind of kid. Natural, not a problem at the high school level but here, you can't do it.
"To Deon's great credit, he worked awfully, awfully hard at perfecting, flexing his ankles and using good football position. And that's really given him a chance to start getting involved in the mix. I couldn't be happier."
Holliday said, "Both of those kids have gotten better. Deon Meadows has had an excellent spring, and he's starting to look like the guy we saw on tape.
"The one thing about that linebacker position, when those guys are thinking it's hard for them to turn it loose and just go play. Those young kids, Rip has thrown a lot at them and they're starting to grasp it. You see them play faster because of it."
BRIEFLY: Word came down that quarterback Byron Leftwich will not be able to attend Friday's Big Green Scholarship Foundation dinner, "An Evening With the Pros." The reunion of MU alums, to be emceed by Chad Pennington, is sold out. ... Thursday's practice may be moved to Friday, depending on the weather forecast. Time would remain the same at 3:30 p.m., and it will not be in full pads with the spring game coming up Saturday. ...
The Green-White Game begins at 2 p.m. Saturday.