HUNTINGTON - There are two reasons why some football players don't get much work at spring practice.For most, it's injury. Most of those are recuperating from (pick one: knee, ankle, labrum) surgery. If the recovery process is far enough along, they're doing light running or riding that stationary bike.For a select few, it's the sign you've arrived. The coaches know you can play the game and play it well, and need to figure out who can back you up.This week, as Marshall enters its fourth of five weeks in the spring season, we know we'll see quarterback Rakeem Cato and slippery slot receiver Tommy Shuler. How much we see them on the field will be another story."Cato doesn't know this yet," said offensive coordinator Bill Legg, pausing with a grin. "But I'm going to start restricting his reps, probably, over the next couple of weeks, to be honest with you."Yes, it's time for the returning Conference USA Most Valuable Player to take a siesta. As Legg says, it's time to look at the other guys, and the first hint came Saturday when Blake Frohnapfel played a few series with the first unit.He played just enough with the "ones" to hit brother Eric for 25 yards on a bubble screen. That sparked a four-play, 50-yard touchdown drive finished by a Kevin Grooms 12-yard run."I've got some questions that need to get answered," Legg said. "[Third-stringer] Gunnar [Holcombe] got three series today; I want him to get more series over the next couple weeks. I think he's got a huge, huge upside and I think he's got a really, really bright future."I want to see more of Blake Frohnapfel, get him some more reps. I held [first-semester freshman] Kevin Anderson out today because I want him to get through all the insertion, get back through the insertion so now he doesn't have to think about it and can go play."So you'll see more of those guys than you'll see of Cato."Shuler's load will be reduced, as well. The Miami native has been getting roughly 75 to 80 percent of the reps with the first unit.Legg has been cautious with Devon "Moo Moo" Smith, that 5-foot-7 dynamo who is still not 100 percent. While Legg will get all other healthy receivers a long look, there's one thing he won't do until August - work with "10" personnel sets. (That's one running back, zero tight ends.)Four-receiver plays with Smith and Shuler on the inside could be special. Add to that Davonte Allen or Demetrius Evans at "X" and the emerging Craig Wilkins or DeAndre Reaves at "Z." (Reaves' future ultimately could be inside.)For now, the Herd is running exclusive "11" sets and not doing terribly. It will be fun to see how the backups QBs run the show this week.
Defensively, coordinator Chuck Heater begins his foray into reversing the Herd's third-down woes. Believe it or not, the Herd's 44.51 percent allowed ranked 97th of 120 major-college teams. I would have guessed about 15 spots worse.Not to worry: The Herd allowed opponents to convert 76 percent of fourth downs, 19 of 25, a nifty 117th. Only Arkansas State (23) allowed more fourth-down conversions, and you may recall MU missing a bowl game by failing to stop East Carolina on fourth-and-10 in the season finale.One figures if the Herd is a bit more effective on third down, it will leave foes with more yardage to gain on fourth, thus deterring the practice of going for it. That task begins this week."We haven't even put in our third-down package yet," Heater said. "Our coverage is there, but not the structure of it. So we'll do that next week; that will be a big thing." nnDerek Mitchell has been a first-class role player for the Herd, and the fifth-year senior from Point Pleasant is taking on yet another role.
I can't even count how many positions, situations, special units and everything else he has had a hand in, but he has a new assignment: Strong-side linebacker.That won't be a full-time job in Heater's defense, for he is constructing a 4-2-5 to take on the air-it-out offenses in Conference USA. But there are times to morph into a conventional 4-3, and that's when a "Sam" will be summoned.Last week, the second unit usually lacked a nickel, bringing Mitchell onto the field as the "Sam." He went nuts in the scrimmage Saturday morning, recording eight tackles, 31/2 for loss with three tag "sacks.""Coach [Adam] Fuller said something about I have to learn to play 'inside the box,' me being a little smaller," Mitchell said. "It'll be a little difficult, but I'll do my best."He sees one big advantage this year's defense will have over last year's, and how it shouldn't suffer another 517-point barrage."We're older," he said. "We're more experienced. Defenses, I would say, are a little simpler, terminology-wise, and everybody's understanding it. We've got some good coaches that came in, and they're really helping us out a lot." nnLegg, that ol' lineman from Poca, will often tell you that the trenches are no place for a freshman, true or redshirt. In fact, he would prefer every freshman to redshirt, then serve another year or two in apprenticeship before finally taking the big stage.Physical maturity, honed by hours in the weight room, is the obvious factor. That hasn't changed over the years, either.Legg likened it to the old days of trudging to the library to get your information, long before the days of the internet. Ah, the good ol' days: the card catalog, the periodic guide, the trip down the aisles, the daring foray into the stacks ..."That's the generation we grew up in," Legg said. "Well, that's kind of the way the offensive line works. That's the way it is."There's no change. Unless the NCAA makes it legal for us to shoot horse steroids into them, it ain't never going to change."So where do horse steroids fall in the Library of Congress numbering system?Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.