HUNTINGTON — In this era of all one-a-day practices, Marshall has been in camp two and a half weeks and still has 21 more days to go until it opens Sept. 2 against Miami (Ohio).
After hours and hours of seven-on-seven and “thud” tackling, it’s time for the first glimpse of what the Thundering Herd might be made of.
That’s the hope of coach Doc Holliday, as his team goes all out Saturday for its first of two scrimmages, and the only one open to the public. First whistle comes at 6 p.m.
“I think whenever you scrimmage, you actually play the game, see guys go out and coaches get away from them and [players] go execute the game, go make plays,” Holliday said. “We call it competitive excellence — when a guy’s number is called, he’s got to be able to make that play. Whenever you’re going full speed, you tackle and play the game the way it’s played, then you’ve got to see which guys can line up and get that done.
“We’re going to put them in situations where they find out if they can make plays, or they can’t.”
Typically, the team will script drives beginning anywhere from the offense’s 2-yard line to the “red zone,” and a number of down-and-distance situations. Kicking-game phases will be interspersed.
This Herd team is testing out new personnel, new alignments and veterans put in new positions. The following is just a sample:
n Perhaps the most visible are the new pass-catch combos on the first unit, in which the receivers have been rotating a bit. You may see Tyre Brady, Nick Mathews and Willie Johnson at first, but coaches have mixed and matched with inside-outside threat Marcel Williams and Hyleck Foster. All have made big catches on Chase Litton passes, and have to continue to do that all season.
n Xavier Gaines will play in his first fall scrimmage as a No. 2 quarterback, perhaps showing his dual-threat capabilities. Isaiah Green will receive his first such snaps as well, but he is being groomed for the future. For Gaines, the future is now.
n Is Trey Rodriguez the real deal at running back? With Keion Davis possibly being sidelined Saturday, the spotlight will fall on the former Florida Atlantic runner a little bit more.
n Ryan Yurachek is a known quantity at tight end, but how often will he see the ball Saturday? And in the Saturdays to come?
n Is Kaare Vedvik the real deal on field goals?
n The retooled linebacker corps is on full display. Juwon Young and Artis Johnson make up two-thirds of the starting unit, and Jaquan Yulee seemingly gets every snap after they depart, whether with the “twos” or the “two-and-a-half” units.
n The trenches always bear watching, especially after the Herd was overpowered at times in 2016. With officials expected to be on hand, the tag “sacks” will be blown dead, giving a better barometer on pass blocking. Theoretically, the defensive line should always be ahead at this point with the offensive line jelling later in the month. But the D-line is as much of a question mark as its offensive counterpart.
n If the receivers are hitting center stage Saturday, that necessarily puts an equal spotlight on the cornerbacks and safeties.
In the back, the combinations will be as interesting as who goes out first. Late in the week, young Brandon Drayton was paired with C.J. Reavis, with the unrelated Gants — Kendall and Malik — manning the other unit.
Chris Jackson and Rodney Allen are the usual suspects at corner, but Jaylon McClain-Sapp is still the third man and Kereon Merrell is pressing everybody. McClain-Sapp has to clean up his act, as he is good for at least one uncalled penalty per practice.
After Saturday, practices will be closed to the public, save for freshmen attending as part of the university’s Week of Welcome activities.