HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall football coach Doc Holliday responded succinctly when a reporter noticed one Saturday that defensive lineman James Rouse didn’t see much of the field that practice.
“Because I didn’t want him to,” Holliday said.
That’s a measure of respect that few players receive, to rest through much of the preseason because coaches know exactly what Rouse will bring when he does take the field. Of course, they’ve had plenty of time to figure it out. This is Rouse’s sixth preseason camp.
“I’ve been here for a while,” he said.
Rouse’s arrival at Marshall predates Holliday’s. Rouse redshirted the 2009 season and Holliday coached his first game for the Thundering Herd in 2010. The defensive lineman lost all but three games in 2011 and 2012 to Achilles tendon and back injuries.
Returning at full strength in 2013, he became one of Conference USA’s best defensive linemen, recording 14 tackles for a loss on his way to a first-team all-C-USA nod. Now he’s considered the conference’s best defensive player, period. C-USA coaches named him their preseason defensive player of the year.
That’s why he gets to take it easy on some days as Marshall prepares to open the season Aug. 30 at Miami (Ohio). He could use the rest and has the resume to earn it.
“The guy has something in the bank,” Herd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. “You know who he is. You just try to manage him.
“It’s akin to an NFL veteran player,” he continued. “You know what they’re about. You’re just trying to get them through with their bodies and you just want them at top speed when we’re getting ready to play.”
Rouse still has gotten his reps in this preseason, but many of them have been mental. As he watches the play unfold before him, he pictures his job in the process of blowing that play up, where he should be and what spot he should attack. It doesn’t replace the benefits of actually going out and doing it, but it keeps his mind sharp so that his body, accustomed after six years to making those moves, can follow.
And when he does line up against the offense, he makes it count.
“We do stuff against the scout team and I try to make my steps perfect and work my craft and do everything they’re doing in team,” Rouse said.
He still offers plenty to Marshall’s defense, even when he’s not on the field. He’s experienced the entire Holliday era at Marshall and knows what’s expected. He has six years of scouting opponents and six years of growth as a college football player.
That growth has led to high praise from outside the program, a wealth of knowledge and a great deal of respect within the program. The Herd’s new guard on defense makes sure to pick his brain.
“A lot of young guys come to me wanting to know how I was able to get stuff faster, how I was able to learn my plays,” Rouse said. “I’ve been teaching them different ways I’ve started to memorize plays and blocking schemes.”
Rouse’s years of work have led to an improved skill set, Heater said. It’s also boosted his confidence to try new things. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Virginia native could be trying new positions, or at least revisiting old ones. He came to the Herd as a 235-pound defensive end before finding his home on the interior line. There’s a good chance he might spend a couple of plays at end again.
“It’s in our mindset to put him in a situation where we give him the best opportunity to go rush the passer,” Heater said of Rouse, whose 14 tackles for loss included six sacks. “He’s good at that. Our obligation is to make sure we get him in a situation to do that.”
Rouse wouldn’t mind the opportunity to force opponents to block his 270 pounds off the corner while contending with, say, 284-pound Steve Dillon and 273-pound Jarquez Samuel up the middle. Moving positions is no big deal to him.
“I know them all,” Rouse said.
He’s had plenty of time to learn.