Doug Smock: Several Marshall football newcomers struggled in early scrimmage

SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Several Marshall football newcomers, including quarterback Xavier Gaines (11), struggled to make an early impression in the 2017 Green and White Scrimmage on Saturday. Gaines was 2 of 14 passing with an interception and a lost fumble.

HUNTINGTON — One caveat about Marshall’s Green and White Scrimmage: Fans did get to see an all-out scrimmage, albeit one less than two hours long.

The scrimmage, formerly known as a “game,” moved to the fourth Saturday of the Thundering Herd’s spring schedule. That Saturday usually is the most important day, featuring a longer, harder officiated format.

Now, the most important day will take place this Saturday, in the 15th and final workout.

Nonetheless, fans saw some fireworks in MU’s indoor practice building. But they also saw newcomers struggling to gain their footing.

Miami transfers Tyre Brady and Juwon Young are obvious exclusions, but they’re not really newcomers. Wide receiver Brady has played in eight college games, starting three; linebacker Young started at middle linebacker for the Hurricanes in 2015 and played the weak side in the spring of 2016.

Young was the Thundering Herd’s leading tackler Saturday with seven, while Brady gained 156 yards on four catches with two long touchdowns.

No, we’re talking about the redshirted freshmen and those midyear juco transfers in their first spring. The more springs you watch, the more you see the newbies struggle in their first scrimmages.

Most visibly, quarterback Xavier Gaines showed he has a long, long way to go. He showed his mobility with a 36-yard gain early, but finished 2 of 14 passing, with an interception and a lost fumble.

“Xavier is a talented young man, but what we’re doing is new,” said offensive coordinator Bill Legg. “College quarterback is new for him. His system that he came from is not necessarily the same system we run [he ran the veer], so there was a lot of new learning involved. And then we ramped it up in the offseason.

“He has all the physical tools to be a great player. It’s getting, ‘Where do my eyes go? When do they go there?’ being able to do that on a consistent basis. He’s still got work to do from that standpoint, which most kids do.”

At one point, Gaines misfired on six straight passes, though two of those were throwaways under pressure.

Which brings us to the second-string offensive line, which has its problems. AJ Addison and Alex Locklear were the experienced hands, but the others were redshirt freshmen. Marshall cannot afford to go into the season with only seven linemen ready to play.

Receiver Darian Owens, in his first semester here, deserved better throws but didn’t have a catch. QB Jackson White was 0 for 8.

There was one solid performance from a freshman, safety Brandon Drayton. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Largo, Florida, native, had five tackles and two breakups.

With C.J. Reavis out and Kendall Gant held out of contact, Drayton’s development is critical.

“He’s got the range you like with a post safety. He’s got innate stuff,” said Chuck Heater, defensive coordinator. “He’s a guy who does a lot of things you don’t have to coach. That’s a positive for us, because we, by far, didn’t have good enough safety play last year.

“That was a major disappointment after we had good safety play for previous years.”

Expect some of the struggling youngsters to have a better day in the final scrimmage, though Gaines should brace for more blitzing. Both coordinators opted for a basic strategy Saturday, so they could open up the playbook.

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The Herd will present second-reference nightmares this fall with five Johnsons.

The rundown: receiver Willie, cornerback Dontrell, linebacker Artis, defensive back Nazeeh and defensive tackle Charkie.

None are related. I think.

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Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Gillette, past chairman of the Marshall University Foundation and former MU football player. He never misses a game despite living in Atlanta.

He is another those who could have been on the team plane in 1970, the one that crashed short of Tri-State Airport. He played in 1969 and practiced in the spring of 1970, but a shoulder injury cut short his career.

He attended the opening of the Vinny Curry Locker Room, where he happily gave $1,000 to be honored with his name on a locker.

When he saw his nameplate, he found it next to that of his old roommate — kicker Marcelo Lajterman, one of the 37 players killed.

Gillette cried on the spot. Nothing more to say.

Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or Follow him on Twitter @dougsmock and read his blog at

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