NCF Nation: Tyler Warner

Spring superlatives: Marshall

March, 10, 2010
Marshall is my next profile for the strongest and weakest positions heading into this spring. The Thundering Herd have a new coaching staff this year, but return 16 starters from last year’s Little Caesar’s Bowl championship team.

Strongest position: Wide receiver

Key returners: Sophomore Antavious Wilson (60 catches for 724 yards and three touchdowns), senior Chuck Walker (33 catches, 350 yards and three touchdowns), sophomore Aaron Dobson (15 catches, 362 yards, four touchdowns), senior Lee Smith (23 catches, 335 yards), sophomore Jamal Wilson (17 catches, 128 yards)

Key departures: Cody Slate (50 catches, 607 yards, four touchdowns)

The skinny: Slate was a big part of the Marshall offense, but when he suffered a season-ending injury, the Thundering Herd discovered a lot of new weapons. Antavious Wilson has established himself as the top receiver and Walker and Dobson complete what could be a really nice starting receiving corps. There is a lot of young talent on this team and that could make the coaching transition a little easier.

Weakest position: Kicker

Key returners: Junior Tyler Warner (hit 3 of 5 field goal attempts in 2008 and was selected to the 2008 Conference USA All-Freshman team)

Key departures: Craig Ratanamorn (made 22 of 28 field goal attempts during his career)

The skinny: When Doc Holliday took over at Marshall in December, he said his immediate recruiting concern was securing a kicker. Warner didn’t see the field last year because he was inconsistent when battling Ratanamorn for the starting role. Warner will have a chance to secure the starting role this spring, but he’ll have to fend off true freshman Justin Haig in the fall.
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Central Florida Knights
Spring practice starts: March 19
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The Knights will need to develop offensive line talent after allowing 2.54 sacks per game and failing to block for a rushing offense that ranked 82nd in the country. The Knights return all but two offensive linemen and have one coming in the spring.
  • The quarterback battle will heat up with early enrollee Jeffrey Godfrey, who already has impressed coach George O’Leary. Godfrey will compete against Rob Calabrese for the starting role.
  • The Knights will have to find replacements for three key members of the defensive line -- DE Jarvis Geathers, RT Torrell Troup, LT Travis Timmons. The defense was the main reason the Knights finished 8-5 and won their final five games.
East Carolina Pirates
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • With a new coach, a new system, and a crop of new starters, East Carolina will have its work cut out for it this spring. New head coach Ruffin McNeill needs to replace 15 players with starting experience, which won’t be easy with just a month to work.
  • The most underrated positions the Pirates have to fill are punter and kicker. All-American Matt Dodge is gone as is kicker Ben Hartman, who set the school record for career scoring. Finding replacements for those two is a top priority.
  • New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will be implement Texas Tech’s offensive system with just two scholarship quarterbacks and a team that relied on its running game. Riley is confident he can install all of his spread offense this fall, but there’s no telling how quickly the Pirates will pick it up.
Houston Cougars
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The one thing that really kept Houston from an undefeated season was its defense. Brian Stewart, who was named the defensive coordinator in January, inherits a young team with a lot of talent, but he has some work to do to catch the defense up to the offense by September.
  • Quarterback Case Keenum returns for his senior season, but his center, Carl Barnett, does not. Barnett started 39 games, so Keenum will have to establish a good rapport with his new center this spring. Blake Sargent, who was the backup last year, appears to be the front-runner.
  • Even though the Cougars did not lose many starters on offense, coach Kevin Sumlin will look for more athletic players to rotate into the mix. Last season, 19 players had at least one catch and 12 had double-digit catches.

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