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Up with D.J. Hunter, down with injuries, MAC

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- RANDOMLY strung-together items from Marshall spring practice and beyond:
  • As you may have seen from a story in the Saturday Gazette-Mail, the redevelopment of D.J. Hunter at safety bears watching, from now through August and into the opener against Miami of Ohio.
  • His move to linebacker last year was probably the right one, though it came a week late. He was the starting nickel in the 69-34 debacle at West Virginia, after which the defensive coaches wised up and moved him to strong-side linebacker.Weighing maybe 200 pounds after going for seconds, Hunter was nonetheless the best linebacker on the field, and at times the best defender on the field.He would have succeeded long-term, I believe, but the move back to the secondary is the obvious one."D.J. did some good things athletically for us," said coach Doc Holliday. "This package is a little bit different from what we were a year ago. We'll probably be playing with a little bit more five and six defensive backs at times. When you do that, you stand back and don't have D.J. sitting on the bench watching. So you want him in there playing."At that safety position, you won't come out. We'll substitute for linebackers in certain situations, in certain packages."When he successfully learns his old-but-new position, his linebacker days will certainly help him. And he can move down in a pinch, and it appears new coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater is taking that into account."It's going to help him, as far as his physical-ness is concerned," Holliday said. "He's still a linebacker at times, when you watch out there. Just because he's got 'strong safety' beside his name, he's going to get dropped down into that box quite a bit. So that experience he had playing in the box is going to be valuable, because he's going to there at times from the safety position."
  • Injuries are always a big part of spring practice, especially those healing from the previous season. Some pose an inconvenience, but others interfere with the development of a particular unit.
  • An example of the latter: center Cam Dees.It's a tough, tough break to see the rising sophomore in a red "no contact" jersey this spring. On the offensive line, you can do so much non-contact work and Dees needed the seasoning.With all other minor candidates long gone, that has brought newcomer Tyler Combs into the backup center role. So now the Louisa, Ky., native not only has to overcome a year of nonqualifier inactivity, he has to master the shotgun snap.
    Let's put it this way: Someday he will look back on the previous week and laugh. We hope.Two red-shirted redshirt freshmen, A.J. Leggett and DeAndre Scott, are part of the quintet battling for the wide-open safety positions, but they won't be hurt as much. They have simply been paired together in seven-on-seven and other noncontact drills, and are getting a lot of work that way.
    The down side is they won't do much in the two important scrimmages, April 13 and 20, or the Green-White Game, April 27.Stay tuned in August.
  • As an addendum to Mitch Vingle's Thursday column about the few Marshall fans who somehow yearn for the Mid-American Conference, I offer a few reminders.
  • (These few fans obviously forget the Toledo mascot, Rocky the Rocket. That alone is reason to run screaming from the MAC.)The increase in TV revenue always has exceeded the increase in travel, usually by a substantial margin. Every time I ask MU dime-counter David Steele, he confirms as much.Additionally, the league does a good job in limiting travel in several sports. In several sports (golf, track and field, swimming, etc.), the only league function is the conference championship.
    I vividly remember how desperate MU fans were about leaving the MAC, and I have long expressed zero tolerance about second-guessing.And one final note: MAC football was overrated last year. I know, for I won a bowl confidence pool loading up on MAC losers.
  • Speaking about longer travel, East Carolina is playing for the tournament championship Tuesday night at Weber State.
  • The Pirates defeated Savannah State, Rider, Loyola (Md.) and Evansville to get there, even beating the Aces 81-58 before 5,625 at Minges Coliseum.Deride it all you want, but remember the Pirates' (lack of) basketball heritage. I know one basketball fan base that would love to trade places about now.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or, or follow him at
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