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Herd's top WRs expected to deliver

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

Last year, Darius Watts entertained and produced as a freshman. With the departure of four of Marshall's top five receivers from last year, the expectations surrounding him will be high again this season.

Watts was the Thundering Herd's No. 2 receiver last year in terms of yardage with 616 and led the team in TD catches with six.

He, along with Curtis Jones, will be next in a long line of receivers who excel at Marshall, as the 2001 version goes through spring practice, which opened up this past week. The first day of full pads was Thursday.

"They have the basic concept, but they don't really have the details," Herd offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher said. "They need to catch up to (quarterback Byron Leftwich) as quick as they can -- which is easier said than done."

Leftwich, who enters his second full season under center, feels more comfortable leading the Herd than he did this time last year now that Marshall fans know what he can do, Zaunbrecher said.

"He's not worried about a lot of things but improving," he said. "That makes things a lot easier for him."

Marshall head coach Bob Pruett, who mid-way through last season declared Leftwich could be a serious Heisman contender as soon as the 2001 season, said if Leftwich can connect with Watts and Jones, the Herd offense should hum.

"They can be as good of receivers as anybody around," he said. "The biggest thing they have to do is get stronger."

Of course, like any team, Marshall loses some seniors from last year's squad.

The most glaring are the receiving corps of Nate Poole, David Foye, Lanier Washington and John Cooper.

Also, big holes are left by the departure of last year's pre-season All-American cornerbacks Danny Derricott and Maurice Hines.

But there are people waiting to fill those holes already, Pruett said. Yancy Satterwhite and Terrance Tarpley likely will start at cornerback. A slew of receivers are expected to make names for themselves.

"We have pretty good retention from what we've done last year," Pruett said. "So at least the kids remember what they're doing."

The two key offensive problems for Marshall last year -- the running game and the offensive line -- continue to be mysteries.

Although only one lineman is lost -- Jimmy Cabellos, an anchor at right guard -- those who return still need experience, Zaunbrecher said. The spring session will be essential especially for the front five.

Experience is the main positive for the running game. Sixteen different backs had at least one carry last year, and 11 return.

"We haven't had that luxury before," Zaunbrecher said. "It's nice to be able to count on a variety of guys."

And that's exactly what Marshall will do. As was the case last year, the Herd will run the ball via tailback-by-committee.

"You stay healthier that way," Zaunbrecher said. "Guys can get their breath and jump back in there again. That's how we prefer to do it."

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at sports@exponent-telegram.com.

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