HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - A new hat has been thrown into the ring as a candidate for the starting quarterback at Marshall University.
During a recent scrimmage, freshman Rakeem Cato completed 10-of-14 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore A.J. Graham figured to have the upper hand in terms of the depth chart with Eddie Sullivan and Blake Frohnapfel jockeying for playing time heading into the final weeks of preseason.
"All four of those guys have competed well," Marshall second-year head coach Doc Holliday said. "It's crunch time not only at the quarterback position but at all positions."
A battle also is being waged at running back between Martin Ward, who rushed for 345 yards last year, and Tron Martinez, who gained 262 yards on the ground in 2010.
Marshall returns a total of five starters from a 5-7 campaign. Looking to hold down their role in the starting lineup are wide receiver Aaron Dobson (44 catches for 689 yards), and offensive lineman Corey Tenney (right tackle), C.J. Wood (right guard) and Ryan Tillman (left tackle).
"A year ago, I didn't like the offensive line," Holliday said. "I didn't like anything about them and this year they are tough guys that I like and football is important to them. You can see the progress they have made."
On the defensive side of the ball, Marshall returns nine starters, including defensive end and preseason Conference USA defensive player of the year Vinny Curry. The senior from Neptune, N.J., led all defensive linemen in the FBS in tackles with 94 stops and ranked fifth in the nation with 12 sacks.
Curry's 18 tackles for loss also ranked second in C-USA. He has been named to the preseason watch lists for the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Award.
Also returning to the fold are linemen Delvin Johnson and James Rouse, linebackers Devin Arrington and Tyson Gale and defensive backs Monterius Lovett, Rashad Jackson, Donald Brown and Omar Brown.
"We weren't very good defensively early in the season last year," Holliday noted. "With nine or 10 guys back and the depth we have, we have to play great defense to have a chance at winning this conference."
Special teams is led by Parkersburg High School product Tyler Warner at placekicker. Last year as a junior, Warner converted 31-of-32 extra points and made five field goals.
Also back on special teams are punter Kase Whitehead, kickoff returner Andre Booker and punt returner Troy Evans.
Exactly two weeks remain until the Thundering Herd travel to Morgantown to meet West Virginia in the Friends of Coal Bowl at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4 before a national television audience on ESPN.
"Last year, it was one of the highest rated games on ESPN," Holliday said. "It's important to a lot of people in the state. Evidently, there is some national interest, too, because ESPN has done it two years in a row."