Thursday, May 1, 2008

Chuck Landon: Questions answered as spring drills close

Apr 26, 2008 @ 11:28 PM
The Herald-Dispatch
Questions, questions, questions.

That's what Marshall faced when spring football practice began 26 days ago.

Twelve practices, two scrimmages and one lopsided Green win over the White, 44-8, Saturday before 6,107 fans at Edwards Stadium later, it's time to address the top 10 questions.

No. 1 -- Who will be Marshall's new quarterback?

Although MU head coach Mark Snyder still declines to name Mark Cann the starter, it's a moot point. If Cann isn't the starting quarterback, the Herd will have to install the single-wing and play Chubb Small at "spinner."

No. 2 -- Who will be MU's new place-kicker?

Craig Ratanamorn came out of nowhere to answer this question, punctuating it with three field goals Saturday. The former soccer goalie was such a find, Snyder remarked, "I can sleep well at night now."

That's more than MU soccer coach Bob Gray can say. Ratanamorn apparently has decided to forego his final year of eligibility to concentrate on football.

No. 3 -- Who will emerge at the vacant offensive tackle spots?

Redshirt freshman C.J. Wood took command of right tackle early, while Ryan Tillman made a late rise to first-team left tackle.

Will that duo be able to hold off injured incumbent right tackle Buck Baldridge and incoming juco transfer Landis Provancha in August?

That's a question for two-a-days.

No. 4 -- Will MU improve its poor cornerback play?

Yes, unequivocally. That answer is based on impressive performances by redshirt freshmen DeQuan Bembry and T.J. Drakeford.

Add sophomore D.J. Wingate and juco transfer Josh Miller to the mix and former starters J.J. Johnson and Zearrick Matthews might be on the outside looking in.

No. 5 -- How quickly will the players adjust to new coordinators?

So far, so good. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter's blitz-happy 3-4, featuring heavy usage of nickel and dime coverage was an immediate hit.

As for offensive coordinator John Shannon, the running backs, slot receivers and tight ends particularly like his new scheme. But it remains to be seen how X-receivers will be utilized.

No. 6 -- Will the reconfigured front seven be effective?

That question wasn't answered. Defensive end John Jacobs had a very good spring, but nothing else was conclusive because so many players sat out.

No. 7 -- Can Marshall build some much-needed depth at linebacker?

Yes, thanks to injuries to probable starters Maurice Kitchens, Mario Harvey and Andre Portis. That allowed redshirt freshmen Kellen Harris and Corey Hart to get a ton of reps. It also permitted converted strong safety Phillip Gamble to blossom in his new role.

No. 8 -- Will a new wide receiver emerge to strengthen the depleted corps?

Yes, and his name is Bryant Milligan. The redshirt freshman moved up to first-team slot receiver and led the Green-White game with six catches for 65 yards.

No. 9 -- Who will step up at tight end to solidify the position?

Everyone expected it to be highly touted junior college transfer Maurice Graham. But ankle surgery opened the door for Lee Smith, who made the most of the opportunity.

"He had an excellent spring. ... very, very impressive," said Snyder.

No. 10 -- If the Herd were given a letter grade for spring practice, what would it be?

Based on 20 scholarship players sitting out the Green-White game with injuries, I give the Herd a B-minus.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 526-2827. E-mail him at


The Herald-Dispatch
Huntington, W VA

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