HUNTINGTON — The toughest adjustment to Marshall linebacker Neville Hewitt’s switch to jersey No. 6 could come for the stat crew of the first opponent, Miami (Ohio).
When the Thundering Herd opens the season Aug. 30 at Yager Stadium in Oxford, the home statisticians have to discern between a pair of No. 6s, with wide receiver Davonte Allen also sporting that number.
That is allowed as long as the two aren’t on the field at the same time, so that isn’t a problem. But stat crews will have to make sure that Allen doesn’t get credit for sacks and Hewitt doesn’t end up on the box score as catching a 60-yard touchdown pass. MU officials will renumber Allen as “6A” in their computer stat program.
For crews less familiar with the Thundering Herd, the task is tougher. Last year, big defensive tackle James Rouse and 5-foot-6 receiver “Moo Moo” Smith both wore No. 11, leading to several humorous mix-ups on the road.
As for team preparations, Miami has film of Hewitt playing 14 games with No. 43, often dominantly. That started right off the bat last year, as Hewitt had eight tackles and split a tackle for loss in his college debut, which came against the RedHawks.
And, as linebackers coach Adam Fuller reminds, Hewitt was doing this in his first game at linebacker. Hewitt was a safety at Georgia Military College, a position perhaps more appropriate for a No. 6.
“Sometimes you take those safeties [from high school], it doesn’t always work out,” said linebackers coach Adam Fuller. “They can’t find the ball, they’re coverage [only] guys, but it worked out with him — right natural. I mean, we went two days last year on the acclimation days and by day 3 we were comfortable with who he was and how we went about his business.”
Hewitt wasn’t surprised at the move. “They told me at Georgia Military College, ‘You’re probably going to be a linebacker.’ We played the 3-5-3 and I was the only safety back there.”
So what brought on his switch to No. 6?
“I actually wanted it before I got here,” Hewitt said. “It’s a few different things like, my mom, her [personal] situation is going on six years, then my birthday is April 6, and then it feels like it took me six years to get here — four years of high school and then two years of junior college. That’s really why I wanted it.”
“Neville’s a beast,” said fellow linebacker D.J. Hunter. “He can change his number to 50 or whatever, because I know he’s going to bring it every game.”
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Hunter has been getting a full load of reps at strong-side linebacker alongside Hewitt and Jermaine Holmes, as Evan McKelvey watches. McKelvey has dressed and participated in individual drills, but has been held out of contact as much by coach’s decision as anything.
Even if Hunter doesn’t latch onto the first unit when the depth chart comes out, he’ll play his share. After all, MU’s 14 opponents ran 1,053 snaps, and Fuller said seven different linebackers shared them.
Fuller likes what Hunter has to offer in his second tour of duty in the linebacker corps.
“His skill set fits with what we’re using him there for,” Fuller said. “He’s got above-the-line coverage skills, he’s got above-the-line blitz skills. He fits in the run really well, he’s got good underneath zone coverage skills — that’s a little bit different for him. But he’s comfortable.”
As for Hunter, he’s hungry after losing his starting safety job last year, yet grateful for his new place in the Herd rotation.
“I really do love the position I’m in,” he said. “And I appreciate them giving me another chance to play on this defense. It’s a privilege being out there with those boys that won the [division] championship and the bowl game.”
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Cornerback Darryl Roberts began Thursday’s practice, but eventually pulled his pads off. He joined offensive tackle Clint Van Horn and guards Blake Brooks and Michael Selby on the sidelines. Brooks and Selby were wearing sunglasses, a common post-concussion treatment.
MU coach Doc Holliday said running back Brandon Byrd, who suffered a concussion during a hard hit last week, is a “day or two away.”
Lineup-wise, the situation at outside receiver remained much the same, with Allen and Angelo Jean-Louis on the first unit. Deandre Reaves is continuing his tryout there, with Craig Wilkins fighting to regain his starting spot at “Z,” seized by Jean-Louis.
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Rakeem Cato was named Thursday to the Manning Award watch list, his fifth such mention of the preseason.
The Manning Award is another honor for the nation’s top quarterback, but it is the only award that takes bowl performance into account. The award was created by the Sugar Bowl to honor Archie Manning and sons Peyton and Eli.
Cato is also on the watch lists for the Walter Camp, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien National Quarterback and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards.
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Sports Illustrated has ranked Marshall 25th in its preseason rankings, and the Herd has shot past that mark in USA Today’s still-unfolding countdown.
The latter publication has gone from No. 128 toward No. 1, and selected Florida at No. 22. The teaser for No. 21 does not fit the Herd, either: “This program is tied with another FBS program in producing the third-most top-75 draft picks since 2011.”
So USA Today likes the Herd at 20th, at the least, and possibly 19th. All other “Group of 5” schools have been picked, topped by Boise State at 25th.
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The Herd has its final two-practice day today, with workouts slated at 9:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. With an officiated scrimmage impending for Saturday night, expect the team to go light in the afternoon.
Contact in the morning might be dialed back a notch from Thursday, too. Maybe two notches, maybe seven — Thursday’s single practice was the rowdiest of the month by a good margin. Let’s put it this way: One player tweeted afterward, “Practice got real today.”
“You get this group, and it’s hard to [let up],” said Holliday. “They’re anxious to go play somebody else, but that will happen soon.”
The scrimmage starts at 7 p.m. Saturday.
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Holliday will make his annual “Breakfast With Doc” appearance at 7 a.m. Monday, Aug. 25 at First State Bank’s branch at 3754 Teays Valley Rd. Tudor’s Biscuit World is catering the event.
To RSVP, contact Doug Wallace at 304-696-5428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Doug Smock at email@example.com, 304-348-5130 or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.