When a team such as Marshall operates an offense with a pass first mentality loses one player that was responsible for 15-of-42 (35.7 percent) of its passing touchdowns, one may think there would be some concern.
Not if you talk to Herd tight ends coach Todd Hartley.
“You would think if you lost a first team all-conference kid, one that had 15 touchdowns last year and 25 over the past 2, there may be a drop off when you try to replace him,” Hartley said referring to former Herd tight end Gator Hoskins. “There might be a drop off in numbers but there’s not going to be a drop off in production.”
So who will replace Hoskins? No one person will, but rather a collective contribution by all four tight ends.
“We may not replace Hoskins with one guy,” said Hartley. “But I expect those guys to replace his production as a unit.”
Allow me to introduce you to “those guys” who have the daunting task of filling the void of a position that combined for 25-of-81 (30.9 percent) of the Herd’s passing touchdowns over the last two seasons.
I give to you, Eric Frohnapfel, Joe Woodrum, Deon-Tay McManus and Ryan Yurachek.
This season’s tight end unit has a career combined 30 receptions, 29 belonging to Frohnapfel, for 318 yards and five touchdowns. Hoskins himself total 50 catches for 821 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
However, Hartley remains confident that his unit will remain a reliable target for Heisman Trophy candidate Rakeem Cato.
“We’ve got four options that we feel we can throw in there that can do what we want at any time without having any drop off,” Hartley explained.
Thundering Herd head coach Doc Holliday agrees with Hartley’s projection.
“All four of the tight ends have shown they can play,” Holliday said. “I like what all four of them have to offer and at this point it looks like all four will play.”
As the lone senior in the unit, Hartley expects Frohnapfel to inject more than just stats this season.
“Frohnapfel is a senior, a leader and I expect him to be a captain of this football team,” said Hartley. “I expect him to set a standard for our unit and hold the younger guys accountable to that standard.”
Frohnapfel saw his potential playing time increase significantly after former tight end Devon Johnson was moved into the backfield on the first day of camp. Frohnapfel said the move puts tremendous pressure on the defense.
“Coach Legg wants to run as many packages as possible without subbing out,” Frohnapfel said. “If they can move me around and not stop the clock that just puts more pressure on the defense as they are stuck in one personal group and are forced to cover us all over the field.”
Woodrum is sure to see his share of time this season as he shadows Frohnapfel after earning a scholarship this season. Although he caught only one pass last season, Woodrum did play in all 14 games.
The biggest addition to the tight end unit this season could be the redshirt McManus who was converted from a wide receiver after arriving at Marshall. McManus has made an impact on the field during the first two weeks of camp. As the Herd searches for a hybrid like player that fits the role that Hoskins vacated, Hartley believes McManus could be that guy.
“McManus is oozing with talent who wasn’t a natural tight end coming in that we tried to get into that hybrid position we have, that Gator Hoskins mode,” Hartley explained. “He (McManus) fits that mold of a hybrid player.”
But do not read into Hartley’s comments, he is not ready to crown McManus as Hoskins predecessor—at least not yet.
“Very comparable to Gator but he’s not there yet,” Hartley said. “Gator played at a very elite level especially his senior year and McManus has that potential. He is going to have to work his butt just as hard as Gator did to get there.”
However, Frohnapfel and McManus go together like yin and yang allowing the Herd'sgame plan to center on their production.
“They complement each other so well,” said Hartley. “Gator was that total package as far as the route runner and the physicality at the point of attack. Both Frohnapfel and McManus have strengths and weaknesses but they complement each other perfectly. We will center our attack around them and go from there. They have earned our trust.”
An unexpected surprise after the first two weeks of camp has been the production of Yurachek. After working through a case of rookie jitters, Yurachek certainly settled in during week two. Holliday has been a big fan of Yurachek and as the game continues to come to him, so does his production. While he is expected to travel with the team, he could still take a redshirt if he does not take the field this season. However, if the Herd needed him to produce, he is winning over the trust of the staff in a hurry.
Even with the high expectations that Hartley has for the members of his unit for this season, he has one that is above all the others.
“The most important thing a player can leave is his legacy,” Hartley said. “It doesn’t matter how many touchdowns you caught or passes you caught, the legacy I’m talking about is how you teach those young guys how to practice, go to field and how to act on and off the field.”
A legacy like the one that Hoskins left is certainly a good place to start.