HUNTINGTON - Following are some of the pressing topics after one week in the Marshall camp. I will try to avoid the "p" word.
Is the sophomore edition of Rakeem Cato for real?I'm leaning that way.Expect coordinator Chris Rippon's defense to throw the blitzing book at Cato, who charted a nifty 164.47 NCAA passer rating in the Thundering Herd's scrimmage Saturday. But I'm thinking he can handle it this time around.
This much I know for sure: Cato showed great command of the hurry-up offense. Keep that up and defensive substitution packages will be useless. Are there enough footballs for all these skill players?In a word, no.In years after the Herd's top-25 season of 2002, I occasionally heard about Marshall's alleged depth at wide receiver, but never saw it. I think this is the year I'm on board, and it doesn't hurt that 17 players caught passes Saturday.Outside receivers such as Aaron Dobson will grab the spotlight, but I see a big year for a slot receiver or two. Throw out the "measurables" on Tommy Shuler - the man can find a seam, catch the ball and turn it up for more yardage. With Travon Van and Tron Martinez rejoining the running back fray eventually, are Steward Butler and Kevin Grooms both going to play this year?In a 12-to-14-game season, I can't see them not playing. They're too fast, too shifty, too savvy to redshirt. The Herd might be every bit as deep at this position as league rivals Central Florida or Southern Mississippi. Who plays left tackle, Jordan Jeffries or Gage Niemeyer?Answer: Yes.They split first-team reps Saturday, and pass rushers found the sledding tough on that side. Jeffries said it best after the scrimmage: "Our coach said we have two starting left tackles. That's the way he puts it. That means every day's a battle."You know what they say: If you have two left tackles, you don't have ... wait, wrong position.
Could Alex Bazzie really start at defensive end, opposite Jeremiah Taylor?He just might. Three sacks Saturday won't hurt his cause, and keep this in mind: He thought he made the tag on Cato before that 17-yard touchdown toss to Demetrius Evans. Was the Boston College duo of Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha showing mental rust?I thought so, as one of them was seen a bit out of position on at least two of the four touchdowns. Remember, they were in their sixth practice in the Marshall program, playing on the first unit all along.Give them a pass for now. They are physically impressive, showing as much Friday in the man-vs.-man hitting drill. Each clobbered his offensive foe. What could one conclude about the linebacker position, in general?
Not much yet, except Jermaine Holmes is becoming a stud.And he is becoming the unit's leader, as the middle linebacker position demands. Says Rippon: "I felt he had better control with the defense. In his way, as quiet as he is, the kids got lined up. I'll have to watch the field, but I don't believe there was a major malfunction in getting them lined up." Playing beside Holmes and Devin Arrington on the top unit, Raheem Waiters didn't jump out at me Saturday. On the second unit, Cortez Carter shined in the middle and former safety Evan McKelvey had his first big day on the second level. Billy Mitchell was nearly invisible. Place-kicker of choice, Justin Haig or Trent Martin?Haig has been consistent from 20-40 yards through spring and the past week, but missed a 33-yarder Saturday and had a longer try blocked. Martin hit all from four of his tries from 33 to 42 yards.You'd like to see somebody hit a 50-yarder, which hasn't happened much in the past week. This battle continues. Sorry, but I've got to do it. The "p" word rears its ugly foot, and must be addressed. Can't the Herd just go for it on fourth down, even inside its 10-yard line?At this point, I can't envision Tyler Williams not winning the punting job over Austin Dumas. He can get off a booming punt, 55 yards or more in front of the snap. But that doesn't happen every time, or close to it.Williams knows what he needs to do: "I had some good ones, but I need more consistency. That's what I'm working on now."But he hasn't been close to consistent, and this is where you should be frightened: He has yet to work much with the fastest operation times needed to get kicks off against an all-out rush.Herd fans may find punting difficult to watch.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.