HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall basketball coach Tom Herrion, always the jokester, had a press conference following that of football coach Doc Holliday Tuesday and took a look at the season's first football depth chart.Herrion couldn't resist. "There are more 'ors' than the Ohio River has," he joked.Or a college crew squad. In all, the word "or" is rolled out on the Thundering Herd's two-deep chart 12 times, and that's just on offense and defense. In the specialist listings, "or" shows up three times on the kickoff return alone.The questions abound: Is it a sign of the times, when coaches attempt a little subterfuge before the opening game? Or, in Marshall's case, do the coaches truly believe they have a deep team, one capable of switching out players with little drop-off?
Chuck Heater, the Herd's new defensive coordinator, is a true believer in the latter. Of the 12 designated positions, his unit uses the "or" tag eight times - and means it."We think we [have depth]. We'll find out starting Saturday," Heater said after Tuesday's practice. "But we have guys we think are equal abilities and, maybe more important, have earned the right to play."Some of the "or" designations are no surprise. The best example of that comes at left guard, where Sebastian Johannson and Josh Lovell have long been considered even.The backfield can be considered one big "or," with Essray Taliaferro and Kevin Grooms listed at the top. The battle for No. 2 tight end has gone overtime between Eric Frohnapfel and Devon Johnson. Devon Smith, the 5-foot-7 speedster moved outside to "X," is co-starting with Davonte Allen.Defensively, it's not a big surprise that both tackle spots are that close - Brandon Sparrow and the surging Jarquez Samuel at the nose, Steve Dillion and James Rouse at the three-technique. The end positions lift an eyebrow, as Ra'Shawde Myers is called a co-starter on both sides, competing with Jeremiah Taylor and Alex Bazzie.Myers also leads two promising newcomers, junior-college import Arnold Blackmon and freshman Gary Thompson."A year ago, he was 215, 220 pounds. Now he's 245," MU coach Doc Holliday said of Myers. "He's holding his weight, he's having an excellent camp and he's as good as those other guys right now. He deserves to play."The reason he's 'or' at both places is he can be the 'rush' end or 'drop' end."The linebacker spots in the 4-2-5 have seen major battles all spring and all this month. Evan McKelvey and juco transfer Neville Hewitt are co-starters on the weak side, with McKelvey backing up Jermaine Holmes in the middle.It's a big, big step for McKelvey, who ripped his anterior cruciate ligament 11 months ago."People underestimate me because I'm a smaller linebacker," said McKelvey, who is 6-1, 205. "But what they don't realize is I have a lot of power. It's a weight situation, of course, but weight shouldn't be a problem as long as you play with strength, play with power, play with technique, everything fits in the right place."
The depth chart at cornerback suggests a three-man rotation, Monterius Lovett, Darryl Roberts and Derrick Thomas - zero surprise there. It's uncertain when Keith Baxter returns to full contact, or his immediate role when he is cleared.At strong-side linebacker, used when the Herd goes into a 4-3, Raheem Waiters is listed even with Derek Mitchell. A little Riverside-Point Pleasant battle there.Who returns kicks will be up in the air all season, it seems - even during games. The chart lists four kickoff returners, with Smith and Tommy Shuler as punt returners.Among the more definite listings, true freshman Amareto Curraj has unseated Justin Haig on kickoffs, though Haig still mans the extra-point/field-goal duties. Craig Wilkins remains at "Z" receiver, Taj Letman has outdueled A.J. Leggett at free safety and redshirt Corey Tindal is the starting nickel.The stone-cold locks of camp were quarterback Rakeem Cato, slot receiver Shuler and strong safety D.J. Hunter.Briefly
Notable absence: running back Remi Watson, who was not listed behind No. 3 back Steward Butler. But the 2012 season serves as a reminder that all four backs will get their carries over a 12-game season.Tight end Joe Woodrum, the sophomore from Bluefield, was put on scholarship for the fall semester.The practice period for Rodney Allen and Jalen Stevenson has ended, as both remain nonqualifiers.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.