HUNTINGTON — Over the decade that Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has led the Thundering Herd, his consistent goal was to sit atop Conference USA in special teams performance. That is again the case in 2019, with Holliday looking to win the advantage in the game’s third phase.
Especially in recent seasons, Marshall’s ability to win the field position battle has enabled its strong defense to limit the opposition, forcing it into long fields. With several defensive starters gone from last season’s top-25 ranked unit, that advantage that special teams gain is likely to be even more vital in 2019.
The good news for the Herd is that many key components return from a solid unit in 2018.
Kicker Justin Rohrwasser is back to handle field goal and kickoff duties, and has been training throughout the summer with different specialists. Last season, Rohrwasser connected on 15 of 21 field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards.
Two things that Rohrwasser wants to do is improve on accuracy and leg strength — two aspects that the summer work with other specialists has aided. In addition to his own personal growth, Rohrwasser also benefits from having his snapper and holder back for 2019, as well.
Longsnapper Matthew Beardall is a preseason All-Conference USA selection after being named the 2018 All-C-USA first team. Beardall’s accuracy on snaps combines with the consistency and experience of holder Jackson White, giving the Herd a three-part mechanism within the kicking game that will go into their second full year together in football’s quickest timing aspect.
White, a backup quarterback, is going into his third year of holding placekicks for the Herd.
Punter Robert Lefevre returns for his second season after taking the reins from current NFL punter Kaare Vedvik in 2018. Following Vedvik up was no easy task, but Lefevre did a solid job of continuing the Herd’s field position success, averaging 41 yards per punt with 22 of his 62 being inside the 20.
Much like Rohrwasser, LeFevre is looking to bolster his success with consistency and leg strength, which he has been working on since the offseason began.
One issue that LeFevre has been working to improve is hang time, which he was inconsistent with in 2018. Because of the low nature of his punts, opponents were able to attempt a return on nearly 70 percent of his punts — a number that could lower with better hang time.
While the kickers all return for the Herd, the return game is one in which there could be a few new faces.
Talented kick returner Keion Davis is gone, as is Marcel Williams, who also became a strong punt returner. That means, during the preseason, the Herd will take a strong look at several players who could step into those roles in an effort to set the Herd offense up in advantageous territory.
Two names which instantly jump out as possibilities for the Herd include wide receiver Willie Johnson, who has experience as a kick returner dating back to his freshman year, and running back Tyler King, who possesses the gamebreaker speed to hit a crease within the kicking game also.
With many starters back on each side of the ball, solidifying those special teams spots will be an early focus for Holliday and his staff in camp.
Marshall’s block and coverage units were solid in 2018 and the Herd went through a four-game streak late in the year in which they made a big play in the punt block/return game, which directly led to touchdowns. Players such as Darius Hodge and Jaquan Yulee made their mark in those areas last season and will be called on once again to do so.