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Can Marshall Continue Its Dominant Play at Linebacker Or Will There Be A Chink in Its Armor?

Over the past two seasons, Marshall linebackers Neville Hewitt and Evan McKelvey have claimed the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Now the question becomes, is there someone in Doc Holliday's stable who can make it three in a row?

D.J. Hunter (22) drops the boom for Marshall.
D.J. Hunter (22) drops the boom for Marshall.
Falecia Collier/Collier Photography

With a defense containing players nicknamed "Playmaker 31" and "Land Shark" in the linebacker's room, few teams found a way to escape the grasps of Marshall's Evan McKelvey and D.J. Hunter in 2015. The duo combined for 186 tackles, 121 by the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year McKelvey, and 14 tackles for loss. Over their stellar careers in the green and white, McKelvey and Hunter registered 553 tackles, 37 for loss. McKelvey worked in 41 games in his career for Marshall while Hunter led active players in 2015 with 53 games played.

With the dynamic duo's playing days at Marshall finished and their sights set on the NFL, defensive coordinator Chuck Heater has his a lot to do to fill the vacancy before kickoff Sept. 3.

Although the loss of McKelvey and Hunter is significant to the Herd's defensive presence, plenty of able and willing bodies are ready to fill the voids. If the Herd plans on making another run at a conference title, the high level of play of Marshall's linebackers must continue on the path constructed over the last two seasons. Here's a look of who will continue the dominant play for the Herd.

Devontre'a Tyler, SR: 51T, 2.5 TFL, Sack, FR: Tyler provided the defense with a much needed spark after the loss of Neville Hewitt, Jermaine Holmes and Raheim Waiters after the 2014 season. After spending two seasons at Iowa Central Community College, the 240-pound transfer landed himself right in the mix after fall camp. Tyler saw stiff competition with Frankie Hernandez in camp, but won the job and quickly turned into a gamer for Doc Holliday. Tyler turned in 6 tackles in the Marshall's win over Purdue while cementing himself firmly in the linebacker core. Tyler passes the eye test and with the losses of McKelvey and Hunter, the stage is set for the next big Herd linebacker. Don't be shocked if Tyler becomes one of the better linebackers in the conference in 2016.

Shawn Petty, RS-SR: 37T, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 Sack, 4 PBU, FF: Playing in only nine games due to injury in 2015, Petty provided another big-body swarming around for the Herd. Petty joined the Herd in 2014 after transferring from Maryland, but due to transfer rules, 2015 was his first season on the field. He worked in all 13 games during his sophomore season at Maryland, tallying 24 tackles, four for loss, and two sacks. Petty sees the field extremely well and suggests that his time spent as the Terps starting quarterback in 2012 led to his ball-hawk vision. Petty will most likely work as the WILL in 2016 but has the speed to move into any spot at the position.

Raheim Husky, RS-JR: 24T, 2.5 TFL: 2015 was a letdown season for Husky considering the way he finished out 2014. As a redshirt-freshman, Husky worked his way from special teams to filling a void created by injured starting middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes. During Marshall's 2014 CUSA Championship game with La. Tech, Huskey recorded eight tackles, 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble, while placing his name in the conversation for MVP of the title game. However for Husky, 2015 was anything near the expectations set for the sophomore. Instead, Huskey found himself in Holliday's doghouse after seven games into the season. Huskey has a knack of getting to the ball and his return to the field for the Herd in 2016 hinges solely on his performance in spring and fall camp. There exists a spot on the field for him in the Herd's defense this season, the how and to what extent is up to him.

Frankie Hernandez, RS-SO: 19T, TFL: The beginning of camp served Hernandez well. The only problem was his performance plateaued rather quickly, opening the door for Tyler. Although Hernandez saw action in all 13 games in 2015, most of his time spent on the field was on special teams. If Hernandez can add 5-10 pounds in the offseason prior to arriving at fall camp, he will provide another brute force to the long list of Marshall linebackers. Much like Huskey, Hernandez owns the rights to playing time this season.

Waiting in the wings is Doyle Grimes and Davon Durant. Grimes took a redshirt in 2015 and Durant came to Marshall after being released from Arizona State before spring practice began. Durant pled guilty to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct that was connected to an arrest in March 2015 after he was accused of domestic violence and aggravated assault against his girlfriend.

The 240-pound Durant was the top JUCO linebacker in the Class of 2015 and brings a pass-rush presence to the Herd. With his size and ability, Durant looks to compete for playing time early and often for the Herd and his on-field qualities could place him in the running for a starting job.

As the journey continues through the 2016 Marshall program, we move back to the offensive side of the ball and break down the receivers. With the loss of Davonte Allen and St. Petersburg Bowl MVP Deandre Reaves, can the Marshall aerial assault continue or will it be grounded like a bird with a broken wing.