Had some western music been blasting through the speakers at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on a cool and grey Saturday morning in Huntington, one might have expected Clint Eastwood to make a cameo appearance at Marshall football's second spring practice. With a mixture of new faces and ones that may not have been easily recognized, players battled for bragging rights between the offense and defense, with the latter earning the edge.
"Defensively we had some concerns with losing [Corey] Tindal and [Keith] Baxter at the corners, and of course we lost Taj [Letman]," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "But that secondary and the front looks like they are athletic as we've been around here in a long time so I think they will be fine."
Before fans begin to hit the panic button on the lack of offensive production for the most part, it is important to qualify the sample on the field. With that being said, I give you the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from Saturday's scrimmage.
The play of the secondary was pretty much spot on with Rodney Allen, Corey Neely, C.J. Reavis, Malik Gant and Chris Jackson headlining the morning workout. Neely and Jackson each had interceptions in the session, both on balls that were underthrown to their intended target. Allen made a great breakup in the endzone on a ball to Michael Clark. The 6-foot-7-receiver initially had the reception only to have it stripped away by Allen at the last second.
Jackson just missed having two picks in the session on a ball intended for Deon-Tay McManus. The freshman undercut the route and had the ball slip through his grasp but got one later in the morning.
"He's a guy we've talked about all spring," Holliday said of Jackson. "Again, for a young guy to come in here and do what he's doing, that's impressive. Like I've said, he should be in high school right now. That's good for us."
Malik Gant was the surprise of the day after delivering four devastating hits, three finding their mark on slot receiver Nick Mathews. The shifty receiver did get one back on Gant, torching him with a nice move for a 15-yard gain.
Ryan Bee looks to have picked up right where he left off after last season's surprising performance, recording a safety on Chase Litton on the first play from the offensive's own 2-yard line.
"It was a designed pass-rush play because they were only on the two or three yard line and we were trying to get after them," Bee said of the safety. "I was just able to get around the edge and me and Gary [Thompson] basically met in the backfield. Either one of use could've got it."
Other defensive notables with good morning performances were Blake Keller, Raheim Huskey and Ty Tyler.
Keion Davis had the longest run of the morning, 21 yards, and was the only back to have multiple carries over 10 yards. Hyleck Foster nearly took one to the house, but a shoestring tackle by Chase Hancock stopped him after a gain of 18. Delvin Weems had the lone score from the backfield, rumbling in from 15 yards.
"You know, Weems is a guy I've been awful hard on...he looked like a back a couple times today," Holliday said. "He did a good job sticking it in the endzone down there, ran physical which is what he has to do with his size."
Freshman John Hathaway had the longest reception of the day on a 29-yard hookup with Michael Birdsong. Raylon Elzy hauled in a 26-yard grab and McManus had the lone score on a 15-yard flag route from Litton.
The Bad and the Ugly
I'll put these together as one, as there wasn't anything that would separate the two. Certainly the play of Litton and Birdsong were subject to criticism, with both underthrowing several balls. Litton's second pass was picked off by Neely on a ball that sailed over Clark's head a good seven yards. Litton's accuracy has certainly been better. His best balls of the day were a quick slant to Josh Knight and the touchdown to McManus.
Birdsong struggled as well, as he spent much of the time with the ball scrambling out of the pocket. His first six passes missed their mark, with an interception in the mix.
"Its hard to say until you see the film," Holliday said of the quarterback struggles. "There were some good things but you can't turn the ball over. You eliminate turnovers and it is what it is. The only thing I was disappointed in was we had couple turnovers that we should have."
The lack of blocking up front never allowed for Litton or Birdsong to find their tight ends over the middle.
"Our offensive line, we've got some guys not out there right now," Holliday said. "We get all our pieces together; we will be a little better up front offensively."
For the most part, the defense is right on target for a good fall camp while the offensive has some work to do. However, one of the biggest jobs the offensive has to do moving forward is continuing getting healthy. Clint Van Horn did not take a snap in the session Saturday and a couple other O-linemen have been banged up, forcing the threes and fours to take snaps with the ones.
"We talked to Appy State and they have five offensive lineman the entire spring," Holliday said of the spring challenges programs face. "I don't know how they practice but that happens. When you get everyone back in the fall, whether it be injuries or recruits coming in or whatever, the you get your depth back that you need and it gets going."
Marshall will practice in pads for the final time in the spring Tuesday and will play the annual Green and White Spring Game Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.