Youngsters on D-line step right up for Herd
HUNTINGTON — On Tuesday, Ryan Bee was back on the field at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
However, Bee — a 2018 Marshall University graduate — only returned as a spectator to watch his former football teammates go through spring drills in between a break as he prepares for his future on a professional level.
Much of the offseason talk surrounding Marshall’s defensive line centered on how the Thundering Herd would replace veteran starters in Bee, Malik Thompson and Juwon Young, but head coach Doc Holliday is singing a different tune than most.
Holliday and his defensive line staff — defensive ends coach Cornell Brown and defensive tackles coach J.C. Price — are beaming about the returning experience among the group, as well as the crops of young, talented players stepping into their opportunity to showcase what they can do.
“We’ve probably got as much depth there as we’ve ever had, and, at those positions, it’s critical that we have that,” Holliday said. “We want to rotate those guys and keep them fresh. That’s the way that we’ve been able to (succeed). Fortunately, we’ve had some depth around here for a couple years to be able to do that.”
Marshall’s recent success at the defensive line has been predicated on two key aspects over the last several years: depth and versatility.
Brown and Price have incorporated 10 or even 11 defensive linemen in rotations during games at times, which keeps those players to around 35 to 45 snaps instead of forcing one main group to log 65 to 70 snaps.
The end result has been a defensive front that is more fresh than an opposing offensive line in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
Because of that rotation, Marshall’s loss of Bee, Thompson and Young does not necessarily mean a lack of experience for the Herd.
Marquis Couch returns along the edge with starting experience, as do interior lineman Channing Hames and Ty Tyler, who has seen extensive action at both defensive end and on the interior.
While Holliday is excited about the returning experience, he’s more in tune with watching the skill sets develop of the young guys who are going to join the rotation this fall.
“We know what Channing Hames and all those guys can do, Couch and others, but we want to continue to watch those young guys grow,” Holliday said. “You see the young guys that we’ve mentioned. Koby Cumberlander looks like what we thought he was, and Sam Burton is going to be a really good player. Jamare Edwards is another one. At some point, you need them all.”
In the particular case of Burton, he was able to take full advantage of the NCAA’s new rule in 2018 that allowed players to participate in four games while still being able to maintain their redshirt. That gave him a taste of game action, which Price felt was really a benefit to his progress heading into the offseason and spring sessions.
Price said there is no exact science for filtering in young guys, but coaches have a framework in mind to work them into a rotation to see what they can do in game situations — an aspect that was aided by the NCAA’s new rule on redshirting.
“A lot of those guys played a little bit, and the new rule helped some guys,” Price said. “It helped Sam because he was able to play in four games and still redshirt. (Darius) Hodge and Koby got to take reps in practice last year and played. You have to force yourself to play young guys at some point in the game so they can get that experience. You’re not going to know if they can play until you play them. Once they play, they gain confidence, the game slows down for them and you build depth.”
In spring, the live periods constitute “games” for those younger players as they try to make their mark with the coaching staff.
Brown said it isn’t just about making plays, though. It is about overall fit within the Herd’s scheme.
“You are looking for how well they develop in the system that we run,” Brown said. “That’s first and foremost. All those guys have been able to soak up a lot of information that we’ve given out, so the biggest thing we are looking for is how they transition from the classroom to the field in their performance.”
Price said no one should get caught up in the loss of players because that occurs each year at various positions.
If players are developing as expected, those losses experienced by a program are minimized.
“You start over every year and you’re going to lose good players every year,” Price said. “Nobody knew Ryan Bee could play until he played, including us. I remember Ryan Bee being out here as a freshman and we had a couple injuries that forced us to say, ‘We’ve got to play him this week.’ Lo and behold, he became a regular guy in the rotation. We feel the exact same way about these guys.”
As Marshall takes the field this week, names such as Cumberlander, Burton, Edwards, Arak McDuffie and even newbie Kyron Taylor are players many people don’t know about yet.
But those are the guys waiting for their chance to showcase their abilities and make the most of their opportunity. Given Marshall’s rotation philosophy along its defensive line, those opportunities will be plentiful in spring and fall practice.