Growth on the Defensive Side for Marshall Football

Head Coach Charles Huff says veteran defenders are making spring practice improvements

By Bill Cornwell

Coming into Marshall Football’s spring drills, making depth improvements on the defensive side of the ball was deemed to be crucial.

Second-year MU Head Coach Charles Huff likes what he’s seeing on that side of the football, especially among a group of returnees.

“Some guys are playing extremely consistent,” Huff said. “I think right now the defense is probably a little bit ahead of the offense because we have some veteran guys on defense.”

Ten returnees are back on defense for the Herd who played in at least 12 games last fall. The group includes players whose playing time grew as the season moved along such as defensive ends Owen Porter and Esaias Carpenter.

The Marshall Defensive staff is working with a mix of experienced returnees and some talented pickups through the transfer portal.

Huff says practice observers may think the Herd’s offense is struggling, but there may be a good reason for those struggles.

“When you’re watching the O-line, you’re saying that we’re struggling, but we’ll be one of the better D-lines in the conference, so this is something that’s good for our guys that day in and day out they are going to be able to go against some of the best,” Huff said.

Porter and Koby Cumberlander are the best statistical returners on the defensive line. Cumberland had 41 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two blocked kicks last fall, while Porter, a Class AAA All-State player at Spring Valley, had 44 tackles and four sacks. Porter was especially effective in Marshall’s loss to Louisiana in the New Orleans Bowl with six tackles, including four for losses.

Experience on the D-line is also provided by Sam Burton, Elijah Alston, Tyqaze Leggs, Immanuel Bush, and two Power 5 transfers–Isaiah Gibson from Kentucky and Anthony Watts from Purdue.

Marshall’s top tacklers in 2021 were the linebackers and most of them are back. Abraham Beauplan and Eli Neal combined for 207 tackles and eight sacks last season. They also had a combined 18 tackles for loss and each forced a fumble. The pair is joined by another playmaking linebacker in Charlie Gray, who had 55 tackles in 2021 along with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Defensive Coordinator, Lance Guidry’s defense requires both upfront pressure and strong coverage from defensive backs. He’s fortunate that key cover men like Micah Abraham and Steven Gilmore, both with fathers who were NFL stalwarts, are back along with up-and-coming backs such as EJ Jackson, Kerion Martin, and Joshua Bowers. Jackson had a strong 2021 season with 56 tackles and a forced fumble. Two experienced transfers–Isaiah Norman from Austin Peay and Andre Sam from McNeese State–will likely get plenty of playing time as well.

The defensive back must make up for the loss of three defensive leaders–Nazeeh Johnson, Brandon Drayton, and Cory McCoy–who combined for 205 tackles last season, 8 tackles for loss, and four interceptions (two each for McCoy and Johnson). McCoy also had 2 fumble recoveries.

Marshall wraps up spring drills with the Green-White Spring Game on April 23rd at 3 pm in the Chris Cline Athletic Center.

Late Transfer–Marshall has added a former Power 5 offensive player in the transfer portal as former Arizona tight end Stacey Marshall Jr. announced this week on Twitter that he’s headed to Huntington. Marshall is 6-5 and 255 pounds and spent two seasons at Arizona, appearing in seven games without recording any statistics. Before going to Tucson to play at Arizona, Marshall spent three seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

This will be Marshall’s final year of eligibility.