2009 Marshall Preview - Offense

Marshall RB Darius Marshall

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd Offense

Marshall Thundering Herd

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Marshall Preview | 2008 Marshall Offense  
- 2008 Marshall Defense | 2008 Marshall Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Marshall Preview | 2006 CFN Marshall Preview

What you need to know: Second-year coordinator John Shannon welcomes back seven starters, a good nucleus from a group that averaged just 20 points and largely underachieved. His up-tempo, one-back set never got off the ground, struggling badly in the passing game. In his defense, QB Mark Cann was only a redshirt freshman, but he’ll have to work hard to keep his job. The competition at quarterback is going to be the story around Huntington until Mark Snyder makes his choice in the summer. The playmakers will once again be RB Darius Marshall, a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore, and TE Cody Slate, the one standout in an otherwise unproven receiving corps.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Mark Cann
154-307, 1,767 yds, 14 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: Darius Marshall
224 carries, 1,095 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Cody Slate
40 catches, 510 yds, 8 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Darius Marshall
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Mark Cann
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RT C.J. Wood
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Cody Slate
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Slate, 2) Marshall 3) Wood
Strength of the offense: Running game, Pass protection
Weakness of the offense:
Passing attack, Red zone offense


Projected Starter: Marshall is preparing for an extended quarterback controversy that might not be resolved until late in August. By default, the favorite would have to be 6-4, 238-pound sophomore Mark Cann simply because he was the starter for all but one game in 2008. However, he left the door open in 2008, going 154-of-307 for 1,767 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. A traditional pocket passer with limited mobility, he made typical rookie mistakes, like telegraphing his passes and failing to read coverages. How well he progresses from that first year will dictate whether he gets a second chance to lead the offense.    

Projected Top Reserves: When Cann was injured in the finale, 6-3, 217-pound junior Brian Anderson made a statement that he plans to be in the mix in 2009. In his most significant action of the year, he carved up Tulsa for three touchdowns and 177 yards on 14-of-19 passing. It was a complete reversal from when he got an opportunity to play in 2007. More of a touch passer than a flame-thrower, he has questionable arm strength on deep balls.

The newcomers in the competition are junior-college transfers Press Taylor and Jake Laudenslayer. The 6-2, 205-pound Taylor comes from Butler County (Kans.) Community College, where he led the Grizzlies to a national championship, and has two years of eligibility remaining. He moves well around the pocket, has adequate arm strength, and displays the leadership that’s desired in a quarterback.

Laudenslayer did his apprenticeship at Mendocino (Calif.) College, and will also have two years left to play in Huntington. The bigger of the two JUCOs at 6-3 and 225 pounds, he has a little more zip on his passes, but didn’t face the same competition as Taylor. He was named conference MVP in 2007, and threw 30 touchdown passes a year ago.   

Watch Out For… Cann to evolve. No, he wasn’t sharp last year, but no one should forget that he was just a redshirt freshman starting for the first time in his career. He’s a very smart quarterback, and played most of the second half of the year in pain. With experience, Cann should only get better.      
Strength: Competition. The signings of two JUCO veterans, Taylor and Laudenslayer, will provide the kind of competition that makes Cann and Anderson. Not your typical newcomers, both are mature and have played a lot of football in the last two years. Even if neither wins the job, their presence is sure to make everyone else elevate the level of their play.
Weakness: No sure-things. Not unlike last year, the position remains a glaring uncertainty. Cann was supposed to add stability, but he’s back to once again fighting for the job. Anderson? One game against a really bad Tulsa D proves little. And Taylor and Laudenslayer haven’t proved anything yet.
Outlook: Wow, has it really been almost seven years since Byron Leftwich was with the program? Marshall doesn’t seem to be much closer to restoring its fading reputation as a producer of NFL quarterbacks. Cann figures to be much improved from last year’s baptism under fire. He better be because he’s suddenly the vet of this unit.
Rating: 5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Junior Darius Marshall took the next step in his evolution as the feature back, rushing for 1,095 yards and five touchdowns on 224 carries. At 5-10 and 189 pounds, he’s neither the biggest nor the fastest back around, but he runs with great vision and patience, waiting behind his blockers until just the right moment before darting through an open hole. Deceptively quick in space, he can make people miss in the open field, and has soft hands when used as a receiver out of the backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Terrell Edwards provides some pop for the running game, using his 6-2, 208-pound frame to drive for extra for yards and move the pile in short yardage. The most powerful of the backs, he provides an ideal complement to the shiftier Marshall. He only had 28 carries for 154 yards and two scores last year, but will get much more work now that Chubb Small has graduated.

The program can’t wait to remove the wrapper from redshirt freshman Martin Ward, one of the big prizes of the 2008 recruiting class. Similar to Marshall in many ways, he’s just 5-9 and 188 pounds, but is an instinctive all-purpose runner, who’ll make people miss as a runner and a receiver on swing passes. He had offers from SEC, Big East, ACC, and Big Ten schools, which begins to explain the excitement surrounding his debut.

Watch Out For… more receptions from Marshall. The Herd would like to develop new ways to get its star in open spaces this fall. One way is to increase his visibility as a pass-catcher, which has happened only about once a game in his first two seasons.
Strength: Depth and talent. Marshall is a 1,000-yard rusher, but he’s hardly alone. Edwards is a viable second option, who can carry the load if necessary, and Ward is just itching at the opportunity to show why he received so much attention on signing day.
Weakness: Gamebreakers. Although the Herd has a good stable of backs, none of them will break the backs of opposing defenses with their scary speed. Marshall may be very quick in tight spaces, but he can be caught from behind fleet-footed defensive backs.                                
Outlook: For the second straight year, the Herd, once known only for its passing attacks, will be guided by a deep and talented group of runners. While Marshall will again get top billing, Edwards has value as a change-of-pace, and Ward is the wild card if he shows he’s ready to contribute right away.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: The Herd receivers are taking a big hit from graduation, including the loss of all-star and leading pass-catcher Darius Passmore. What remains of the veteran players will be led by 6-0, 187-pound senior Courtney Edmonson and 6-1, 197-pound junior Bryant Milligan. Edmonson has plenty of experience, which is at a premium this year, lettering the last two seasons and starting four games in 2007. Buried on the depth chart, he only managed six catches for 55 yards and a score last fall. He has good speed and the ability to be the team’s deep threat when he shakes loose from jams at the line of scrimmage.

Milligan was a mild surprise at Z receiver last year, finishing third on the team with 17 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown. While he won’t blow past defenders with his speed, he’s a skilled receiver, who runs good routes and is especially good at picking up yards after the catch. A reliable target on the intermediate stuff, he has an innate ability to always pick up a few more yards than he should.

The undisputed star of this group is senior TE Cody Slate, a perennial fixture on the All-Conference USA squad. He caught 40 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns, an off-year by his standards, attributable to a leg injury and an inexperienced battery mate. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, he’s a rare field-stretcher at the position, combining good speed with the agility of most wideouts. When he gets locked up with most linebackers, it’s a mismatch that’s going to favor the Herd.

Projected Top Reserves: Depth and inexperience is going to be a concern in Huntington until proven otherwise. The closest thing the Herd has to a battle-tested backup is senior Tavaris Thompson, and he caught one pass for eight yards in 2008. At 6-2 and 198 pounds, he’s loaded with natural ability and physical tools, but has never put it all together. Now would be as good a time as any to come through with a productive season that’s commensurate with his skills.

On a bunch of programs throughout the country, 6-6, 258-pound junior Lee Smith would be the starting tight end. On Marshall, he’ll have to accept a diminished role until Slate graduates. In his second season since transferring from Tennessee, he caught a career-high 12 passes for 89 yards. A much more physical option at the position, he can catch passes if needed and impersonate a guard on running downs. He has one more year as a reserve before using 2010 as a chance to impress NFL scouts.

Watch Out For… the depth chart battle at wide receiver. While Edmonson and Milligan are safe bets on the two-deep, after them, it’ll be a free-for-all for playing time. Transfers Wayne Bonner, David Alexander, Julian Poindexter, and Charles Walker will be trying to distinguish themselves from the underclassmen, like Jamal Wilson, Demetrius Thomas, and Antavious Wilson.             
Strength: The tight ends. You could argue that the Herd has one of the ten best groups of tight ends in the country. Slate is an All-America candidate, and Smith is a hidden gem buried on the second team. Oh, and massive transfer Maurice Graham is ready to play after missing last year with an injury, and redshirt freshman Jamie Hatten was last year’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year.
Weakness: Depth and talent at receiver. Passmore’s graduation leaves a gaping hole at wide receiver, which will be difficult for any of the holdovers to fill. When the leading returning receiver had 17 catches a year ago, it’s a clear sign that inexperience will be a season-long issue.  
Outlook: The tight ends are outstanding. The receivers? Not even close. Edmonson and Milligan are fine as third or fourth options, but when they’re the front-line players, it could have an impact on the development of the passing game. It’s incumbent on one of those anonymous players, like Bonner or Wilson, to emerge as playmakers early in the year.
Rating: 6

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Sure, a couple of regulars need to be replaced, but the core of the offensive line remains intact. Excitement abounds regarding the future of the tackles, sophomores Ryan Tillman and C.J. Wood, who started all 12 games for a unit that allowed just 13 sacks all year. At 6-5 and 282 pounds, he has the big frame and light feet needed to excel at left tackle. While raw and in need of a few more pounds of bulk, he’s already proven capable of handling some of Conference USA’s speedier edge rushers.

Wood is almost a carbon-copy of Tillman, tall, lean, and very athletic for his size. At 6-5 and 288 pounds, he’s actually even lighter on his feet than Tillman, and guarded the blindside a year ago since Mark Cann is a lefty. He gets off the snap quickly and uses his hands well, keeping defenders as far away from his space as possible. While early, to be sure, he’s already showing flashes of a next-level performer.

The big question mark will be in the middle, where 6-5, 303-pound sophomore John Bruhin is the favorite to replace all-leaguer Brian Leggett. Once he gets some reps, he actually has more upside and a much better frame than Leggett. A powerful run blocker with outstanding upper body strength, the staff is cautiously optimistic that he’s the next really good center to play in Huntington.

Leading the way at guard will be 6-4, 305-pound junior Josh Evans and 6-4, 316-pound junior Chad Schofield. The two split starts a year ago and have the game experience to perform well, especially as run blockers. Evans is the better of the pair, a road grader on running plays and arguably the toughest and most physical of the Herd blockers.

Schofield has terrific size and strength, and his lack of mobility won’t be exposed as long as he’s confined to a box. Last year’s experience was the first of his career, so he still has plenty of room for growth, particularly as a pass blocker.

Projected Top Reserves: Marshall boasts a couple of veteran tackles, 6-9, 310-pound senior Daniel Baldridge and 6-5, 310-pound Brandon Campbell, to provide quality depth on the second team. Baldridge actually started 11 games as a sophomore, and won’t be rattled if forced into the lineup. He’s got the long arms needed to fend off edge rushers, but still needs to get more assertive at the point of contact.

Once considered the future at tackle, Campbell has fallen far behind Tillman and Wood. Still, he does offer outstanding size and a couple of years of experience, a luxury as the team’s No. 4 tackle. As a freshman two years ago, he received on-the-job training, starting a pair of games.

Keeping the heat on Evans and Schofield at guard will be 6-4, 302-pound senior Jimmy Rogers. A valuable reserve in his first year out of Mississippi Delta Community College, he earned a letter and got acclimated to his surroundings. With that year of work, he’s better positioned at making a charge up the depth chart.

Watch Out For…Bruhin. As the lone lineman without starting experience, he’s obviously the key to the unit in 2009. The staff loves his demeanor and potential, but it takes a unique young player to excel in his first year at the pivot.         
Strength: Pass protection. Even with an immobile redshirt freshman at quarterback and a pair of rookies at tackle, the Herd still finished an improbable No. 11 nationally in sacks allowed. Now that those tackles, Wood and Tillman, are a year older, no drop-off is expected in keeping the pocket secure.                     
Weakness: The pivot. Bruhin is going to be a good one, but how much can be expected in his first year on the job? Unless he’s truly special, the occasional blown call or misfired snap will be difficult to avoid, especially in the first few games.
Outlook: The line has depth and talent, and is adept at both run blocking and pass blocking. What’s not to like? Wood and Tillman are budding Conference USA stars at tackle, while Evans should be ready to deliver his best season in the program. As long as Bruhin doesn’t implode in the middle, the Herd has a chance to roll out the league’s best front wall.  
Rating: 6


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