Time for Herd, Holliday to work
HUNTINGTON — There was a noted bounce in the step of Marshall University head coach Doc Holliday as he walked into his football pre-preseason press conference Monday afternoon at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Considering that Holliday has 18 starters back from a team that won eight games in the 2017 season, perhaps it was to be expected.
Still, the veteran Thundering Herd coach did not temper his excitement level when discussing what lies ahead when players report Thursday and get started with practice Friday.
“It’s hard to believe it’s going on the ninth season, but I’m more excited now than I’ve ever been,” Holliday said. “I like our team, I like where we are at this point, the challenging schedule and everything we’ve got to look forward to. We’ve got to get to work as quick as we can.”
Holliday said that changes to the NCAA’s dynamic with practices make every repetition that much more valuable for players.
Last season, the preseason was extended one week as the NCAA started to phase out two-a-day practices in an effort to provide a safer environment for players.
This season, that extra week was taken out of the schedule, meaning Marshall - and all other NCAA teams - will have its number of practices decrease prior to the season opener, a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Sept. 1 against Miami (Ohio) at Yager Stadium in Oxford, Ohio.
“The format of practices and number of days has changed a little bit, so we have to adjust accordingly,” Holliday said. “This time last year, we were already practicing. We lost five practices - not just us, but everybody did - of course, lost five practices and about four or five days. We’ve got some catching up to do and we’re anxious to get started.”
For Holliday, the good news is that on-field position battles won’t be prevalent, which would forge the need to split repetitions accordingly.
With nine starters back on both sides of the ball, many levels are solid with veteran presences throughout the two-deep.
When practice opens Friday, the main focus will be on the quarterback position where returnees Isaiah Green and Garet Morrell join graduate transfer Alex Thomson to hash out who will be the starter on Sept. 1.
Both Green and Morrell were here for spring practice, which allowed them the chance to work with new offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey. Thomson has taken part in all summer off-season workout activities with the team, but Friday’s practice will be his first at Marshall.
As Holliday stated following Conference USA Media Day, his hope is one of those three players separates themselves from the others quickly so the team can move forward once camp breaks and game preparation begins.
“Sometimes when you think you have two or three, you don’t have any,” Holliday said. “You hope that one of those guys separate early and we can get settled in there and get ready to go play.”
In addition to the schedule structure changing for the 2018 preseason, Holliday said another aspect that factors into preparation is the new NCAA rule that allows players to play in up to four contests before a decision has to be made about whether they will red-shirt or stay active for the entire season.
“With the new rule, we’ve had a lot of conversations as a staff,” Holliday said. “Those guys can actually play four games now, so how do you prepare, at some point, to get those guys ready if their number is called, especially as you get toward the end of the year.”
Holliday even alluded to a number of players that could have helped the Herd under such a rule last year, including running back Brenden Knox, who could have helped on special teams and Green, who could have gained valuable in-game experience without losing a year.
Holliday said unlike in past years there are relatively few positions where he will need young players to step in for immediate help. Instead, it will be to provide depth at most positions.
“We’re the deepest we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” he said.
The positions that Holliday said he was looking for one or two more proven players among the incoming crop of talent were cornerback and wide receiver.