HUNTINGTON — As Marshall’s defense has been structured over the last few years, there is no more important position than the cornerback spot.
When Marshall’s cornerbacks are strong, the Thundering Herd is able to do some different things with blitz packages and disguises among its front seven, which allows the defense to be the aggressor.
And, when the cornerback spot is not as strong, it forces Marshall into a situation where it must choose between applying pressure and leaving cornerbacks on an island or decreasing pressure to assist with pass coverage, opening up a few more options for opposing offenses.
With 2019 quickly approaching, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday is excited about where his cornerback position is as the team gets set for the start of preseason camp.
Marshall’s key returnee at the position is Chris Jackson, entering his fourth season as a starter for the Herd defense.
“Chris Jackson has been tremendous,” Holliday said. “Just to watch him grow from his freshman year until now has been a lot of fun.”
Jackson, who represented Marshall at Conference USA Media Days earlier this month, was fifth on the team in tackles with 61 while also contributing 15 pass breakups, an interception and a fumble recovery in 2018. The 6-foot, 188-pound Tallahassee, Florida, native was named a preseason all-Conference USA selection just before C-USA Media Day, as well.
While Jackson is the veteran leader, Marshall is not without experience and depth at the cornerback position. The Herd has several pieces returning, including Kereon Merrell, who starts opposite Jackson. Merrell had 35 tackles, three for a loss, and seven pass breakups last season.
One player who saw his name emerge as the 2018 season went on was Steven Gilmore, a true freshman last year. Gilmore earned time by making his name on special teams, then showed promise when inserted into the lineup as a cornerback.
The Rock Hill, South Carolina, native had 17 tackles and a pass breakup on the season, which included a seven-tackle performance against Florida Atlantic.
One potential wild card in the mix could be Jaylon McClain-Sapp, who had a strong spring in 2018, but then only saw action in three games during the 2018 season. In those three games, however, McClain-Sapp had 11 tackles, an interception and two pass breakups.
Jestin Morrow also could see his time increase this season as a nickelback or spot-duty corner. Morrow’s top work has come on special teams to this point, but Holliday has shown a history of rewarding special teams playmakers by giving them repetitions in game situations and seeing what they can do. Morrow had four tackles last year.
The Class of 2019 adds one cornerback to the mix in Micah Abraham, whom cornerbacks coach Mike Treier is high on from an ability standpoint.
Also, Holliday did not specify any positions, but did mention in his pre-camp press conference on Monday that a couple of pieces might be added through the transfer portal prior to Friday’s opening day of camp. It is feasible that the cornerback spot could be among them to provide even more depth and experience.