HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Yes, Marshall's newest defensive linemen have met Vinny Curry, the program's current gold standard of the position.Gary Thompson and Arnold Blackmon have fond memories of summertime visits from Curry, who is battling for a starting job in his second year with the Philadelphia Eagles."I got to meet him. It was definitely a shock, because I didn't expect to see him myself," Blackmon said Thursday. "The way the guys talked to him, he seemed like a regular guy. I love that about him; he came out and worked with us, showed us a few pointers."Thompson picked up a few, as well."Vinny came down a couple of times. I'm friends with his little cousin, so when he comes down, we hang out with him," Thompson said. "Vinny's a big guy. He actually came down here one time during the summer, worked out with us. They had me race him and I kind of, I beat him."Whoa, back that one up. Curry isn't exactly slow, you know. Did Thompson really outrun the former No. 99?Maybe or maybe not, but this much is clear: MU coaches didn't recruit Thompson because he's a plodder. The 6-foot-1, 227-pound native of La Mesa, Calif., attracted recruiters with his cat-quick jump off the snap.
As the start of his first preseason camp, he was a little too quick. Happens to all the good ones, as defensive ends coach Sean Cronin tells it."When they get here, they go through stages of development," Cronin said. "At first, [with] their natural ability, they show flashes, you see them do some things that are pretty exciting. But you're trying to teach them technique and how to work with the defense."As they start to learn that stuff, they start to regress a little bit, because they're thinking about their technique, they're trying to do things a different way than they're used to. So it looks like they're getting worse but really, they get worse before they get better."He's out of that now. He's starting to put technique and talent together, and he's really gotten better the last week."
Thompson came to Marshall last August as a nonqualifier, and he has a lesson for younger athletes about that: Pay attention to your classes early. He said a lackadaisical freshman year set him back so far, he couldn't overcome it and meet NCAA freshman eligibility standards.He followed a path taken by running back Travon Van, who came to Marshall as a nonqualifier and played one-plus seasons for the Herd. (Van is now at Montana.)"When he was playing running back [at MU], his coach came in contact with me, because I was in the same situation he was, of being a 'prop,' " Thompson said. "So [Van] told me in my senior year to go out and just have fun. Don't go to a junior college, come straight here so I wouldn't mess up my eligibility. So now I've got all four years to play."It will be interesting to see how coaches rotate the ends when it's time to give Jeremiah Taylor and Alex Bazzie a breather. Will Thompson end up a No. 3 end, jumping in on either side? Or will Thompson and Blackmon play together, as they have been recently? Or can Ra'Shawde Myers, a junior who wins high marks for technique, stay in the mix?
Blackmon, a 6-1, 242-pound import from Navarro (Texas) College, brings the experience coaches demand in a juco prospect, but acknowledges his room for improvement.The pace of summer conditioning - he didn't arrive until June - was the first shock to Blackmon's system. The pace of the practice was the second shock, and the pace of the opposing Herd offense was the third. As a bonus, he had to to circumnavigate Gage Niemeyer, Jordan Jeffries and other long-armed, physical tackles."I've struggled. I expected to come in and at least maintain," Blackmon said. "I've struggled a lot with a lot of the calls and getting my up-tempo [plays] and getting my feet back under me. It was a grind, I can most definitely say that."I think I maintained well. I think I lost a few pounds, but it's all going to show in the end, when it's time to go to those bowl games, that fourth quarter, last play. It's all going to come in handy."Cronin's assessment: "He's still in that stage where he's thinking. I'm guessing he's probably never worked as hard as he's working now. It's new, it's an adjustment, he hasn't been here working out with our guys as long as Gary, so he's going through an adjustment process right now."He's got to get going. I think he did better [Thursday]; we've got to check the film."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.