Roster Rundown, Defense

Lexi Browning/The Parthenon
Marshalls Taj Letman takes down Greg Howell as the Thundering Herd takes on Florida Atlantic University on Saturday, Oct. 25 at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.

The Parthenon

Lexi Browning/The Parthenon Marshall’s Taj Letman takes down Greg Howell as the Thundering Herd takes on Florida Atlantic University on Saturday, Oct. 25 at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.

Due to the alluring state of the Herd offense, the defense was often portrayed as the ancillary unit in terms of the responsibility for the program’s 2014 success. However, the Herd defense finished 15th in the country last season in defensive efficiency, a mark goaded by a pass rush that ranked 13th nationally in adjusted sack rate, via Football Outsiders.

Elements of the pass rushing success can be attributed across all of the defense’s positional groupings, but the defensive line holds the distinction of the primary proprietor. However, the unit is in a state of flux heading into 2015, with former starters James Rouse, Arnold Blackmon and Ra’Shawde Myers all lost to graduation.

Hulking redshirt senior nose tackle Jarquez Samuel will be the lone returning starter, and he will be doing so accompanied by expectation after being named First-Team All-Conference in the preseason. Aligned alongside at the three-technique tackle will be Steve Dillon who entered into the Marshall program with Samuel in 2011.

Meanwhile, a free-for-all has taken shape during fall camp for the right to start at defensive end in the team’s opening game against Purdue on Sept. 6. With Gary Thompson, Joe Massaquoi, Armonze Daniel, Blake Keller and even some freshmen vying for playing time, Defensive Ends coach Sean Cronin may feel as if he’s been tasked with selecting a GOP candidate. With options at a premium, a deep rotation is the current projection with defensive snaps being divided.

Similar to the line, the linebacking core will also return only one starter in strong side linebacker, D.J. Hunter, who was one of five Herd players selected to the All-Conference preseason team. Joining Hunter will be Maryland transfer Shawn Petty, who if all goes according to plan, will leave his quarterback-playing days behind at College Park.

Hunter finished fourth on the team in tackles last season with 80, including 10 for loss and 5.5 sacks, leading to his placement on the Conference USA Honorable Mention team. Petty, who was forced to play quarterback at Maryland in 2012 due to injuries, will take over the middle linebacker position having last played in 2013, accumulating 24 tackles and two sacks.

In contrast to the front seven, the secondary returns much of its core from last season with cornerback Darryl “Swagg” Roberts being the only starter who will not return this season after being selected by the New England Patriots in the seventh round of the NFL draft.

Entering 2015, redshirt senior Keith Baxter is projected to hold down one corner spot after starting four games last season, while the other will belong to Corey Tindal who started all 14 games last season and was credited with 12 pass break-ups. Atlanta, Georgia native Antavis Rowe is projected as the team’s third corner, but he may swap nickel back duties with Tindal at times and play more on the outside. Redshirt sophomore Rodney Allen will serve as the fourth corner.

At safety, Taj Letman and A.J. Leggett return after tying for the team lead in interceptions last season with four apiece.

Letman, a svelte 185 pounds, ranked third on the team in tackles in 2014 with 90 and also brings valuable experience having started 27 games the past two seasons. Leggett is more of a coverage safety, and displays the ball skills that had him pegged as a corner coming out of high school. With Kendall Gant and Tiquan Lang as the backups, the safety position may be the sturdiest on the team.

Bradley Heltzel can be contacted at [email protected].