EDITOR’S NOTE: HD Media counts down the 10 most important players on Marshall’s 2020 football roster.
HUNTINGTON — When this series started, the list of this countdown was set with players from No. 10 to No. 1.
At the time, that No. 1 spot in this countdown was reserved for junior-to-be quarterback Isaiah Green, who had started for two seasons but was coming into his third year facing competition from redshirt freshman Grant Wells.
Offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said in the past that there is always a quarterback competition, no matter how solidified or experienced the starter.
Therefore, it appeared that they would give Wells an extended look in preseason for two reasons: the coaches felt he earned it after the gains he made during his redshirt year within Cramsey’s offense, and, in the COVID-19 era, there had better be two or three at every position ready to go in on a snap’s notice.
Marshall’s plan changed drastically this week when it was announced Green had entered the NCAA transfer portal, which leaves the Herd without a quarterback who has attempted an in-game pass.
Given the events of this week, that No. 1 position in the countdown — the quarterback spot — became about 1,000 times more important because there is a small window for the new leader of the offense to seize control of the position.
Marshall starts practice on July 31. That’s when Cramsey and staff will go to work formulating the best game plan to move forward for the scheduled Aug. 29 opener.
Wells looks like he is the most likely person to assume the reins of the offense.
The 6-2, 204-pound redshirt freshman from George Washington High School in Charleston has a big-time arm and is an athletically gifted player.
Cramsey was impressed by the development within the offense in 2019 and is eager to see how that progresses moving forward.
Cramsey made no bones about the fact that Wells wanted a shot as the starting quarterback.
“Grant Wells has a really, really good skill set and he wants that spot,” Cramsey said. “That’s one thing that I missed the most about spring was to let those two battle it out for 15 spring practices.”
Looking within Conference USA, Wells’ skill set compares favorably to Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher O’Hara, who trew for 2,616 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1,058 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019.
Cramsey said Wells, among Marshall’s quarterbacks, possesses the most physical talents — arm strength, athleticism and speed.
The one thing Wells doesn’t have is experience, but Cramsey added that Wells impressed with his ability to pick up the mental side of the offense.
Wells will compete for the job with former Huntington High quarterback Luke Zban, who is a redshirt sophomore and a two-time Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year at Marshall.
Cramsey trusts Zban within the system because of his football IQ and his knowledge of what Cramsey is trying to accomplish with the system.
Cramsey added that Zban is one of the biggest competitors in the program, which led him to the scout team honors earned him a scholarship.
“One thing I know about Luke,” Cramsey said. “If he is any game, he’s going to fight and battle. If we are in conditioning drills, it doesn’t phase Luke to compete. He can do a whole workout and then when everyone is done and laying on their backs, he’ll go do 100 push-ups. That’s just who Luke is.”
Marshall also has former Fairland (Ohio) quarterback Joe Lambiotte, who walked on last season, and incoming freshman Eli Sammons from Greenup County, Kentucky, in the quarterback room.
There is also Xavier Gaines, who came to Marshall as a quarterback but has since transitioned to the H-back/tight end spot.
Upon Green’s exit, speculation surfaced about Gaines potentially moving back to quarterback, but he has a tight end’s build now and is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in Conference USA.
While Gaines is likely to continue to see time behind center in certain packages, a permanent move back to quarterback is not in the works.
Ironically, Gaines is the only one mentioned in this story who has thrown and completed a pass in a game pass for the Herd.
Instead, Marshall’s starter will be someone whose first collegiate pass will come in the season opener — tentatively scheduled for Aug. 29 at East Carolina.
No matter who that player is, Cramsey said the goal of the offense is to simplify for 2020 after injuries in 2019 forced some unique personnel groupings.
“We have to play smarter — make it easier, make it simpler for the quarterback,” Cramsey said. “To me, it’s simplify everything and make reads very common on a weekly basis. You still change up formations and dress it up as much as possible, but the reads have to be easy, simple, consistent.”