HUNTINGTON — As Marshall head coach Doc Holliday came off the field following Saturday’s Green-White scrimmage, there was a slight smile on his face.
Perhaps, it was because the weather cooperated with that scrimmage for only the second or third time in his 10-year tenure. Maybe it was even because it signaled the end of one chapter and the start of a new one, as the focus switched to the final leg of recruiting and then offseason workouts.
And it could have been because the scrimmage closed a 15-session spring in which Holliday saw progress at several positions of need.
“Just a couple of positions — probably the linebacker position and receiver position — are the two where we needed to see young kids start to come along and I think we did that,” Holliday said following Saturday’s contest.
Marshall had big losses at each position with starting receivers Tyre Brady and Marcel Williams each exhausting eligibility, plus a bevy of departing talent at linebacker including Chase Hancock, Frankie Hernandez, Artis Johnson and Donyae Moody.
The biggest losses were felt at linebacker. Marshall loses nearly 73 percent of its tackle production at that position. Hancock, Fernandez, Johnson and Moody accounted for 243 out of 335 tackles by linebackers during the 2018 season.
Of the remaining 92 tackles by returning linebackers, 61 of those came from Omari Cobb, the lone returnee with extensive experience at the position. Jaquan Yulee added another 27 tackles and Tyler Brown logged the other four.
With only three linebackers with on-field game experience, spring was vital for Holliday and defensive assistant Brad Lambert to develop young players and get them a base knowledge before attacking things full force in August’s preseason camp.
The Thundering Herd also moved defensive end Darius Hodge to linebacker in an attempt to get another playmaker at the second level. Hodge had 13 tackles in 11 games, but came on strong near the end of the season. Tavante Beckett, who sat out 2018 as a transfer, is also another key addition at the position.
Holliday didn’t mince words about the importance of finding replacements for the losses at linebacker.
“We need to rebuild that linebacker group,” Holliday said. “Other than Omari Cobb, there’s really nobody there that has played a bunch for us, so it was great to see (Tavante) Beckett and Yulee start to develop. We moved Hodge there in the last part of spring ball and he just needs to learn. He can play anywhere.”
Marshall endures a similar situation at wide receiver. Brady and Williams accounted for 95 catches, 1,385 yards and 10 touchdowns between them. Even though it was just two players, it was two key cogs in the offense. The pair accounted for 50 percent of Marshall’s touchdown receptions, 47 percent of its receiving yards and 40 percent of its receptions.
Talik Keaton came on strong in spring and will likely play a key role this fall, while others such as Artie Henry and Naquan Renalds also could see their playing time increase. The most likely scenario is that Marshall will look to incorporate its tight ends into the passing attack with three solid returnees in Armani Levias, Xavier Gaines and Devin Miller.
At the pure receiver position, however, plenty is still to be decided as players join the program in the next few weeks once the spring semester ends. Some of those will be young players recruited in the Class of 2019, such as in-state receiver Amir Richardson or Broc Thompson, who was already on campus and performed well during spring drills.
“I thought the receiver group — that was a group that we had to develop and the young kids started to develop there,” Holliday said. We’ll add a few more pieces here in the next couple of weeks to help strengthen that.”
In the early summer, Marshall will add Kentucky grad transfer Tavin Richardson, who has extensive starting experience (39 games, 25 starts) in three years with the Wildcats. And Holliday alluded several times throughout spring that Tavin Richardson may not be the only grad transfer the Herd pursues. Marshall is expected to keep a close eye on the transfer portal now that spring drills have closed at most Division I programs and the spring semester is also nearing an end.
The wide receiver and linebacker positions are the positions most likely to add bodies while the Herd also could look that route to add depth at running back and defensive line. Holliday was pleased with the progress of returnees at other spots, as well, especially on offense.
“The offensive line is back intact with the addition of Josh [Ball, juco offensive line signee], so I felt good about that,” Holliday said. “Quarterbacks are the same guys we had a year ago and our running backs are no different.”
Marshall’s coaches took off of Sunday to get started on the spring recruiting period, which runs through May 31. During that time, Marshall has 168 total evaluation days as a staff to assess and recruit prospects.
Marshall players are currently in the midst of “Dead Week” as they get set for finals, which should finalize by the end of next week.