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Quantity over quality for Chuck Heater, Marshall defense in 2016

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Gemstones cannot be created without very high temperatures.

Marshall football has a gem named Heater — defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.

Receiving praise from one of the top head coaches in the country, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, should only reinforce that claim. Heater, who is entering his fourth season as the Thundering Herd’s defensive mastermind, won a pair of national championships while on the Florida Gators’ staff under Meyer.

“He’s one of the best teachers. I used to just sit in his meetings and watch him coach,” Meyer said. “Coach Heater has a tendency of making some players out of non-players.”

Like taking a rough piece of rock and turning it into a smooth and polished crystalline object.

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Yes, Urban — Heater creates greatness. He has produced back-to-back Defensive Conference USA Players of the Year: linebackers Neville Hewitt (2014) and Evan McKelvey (2015). While it may be personally satisfying to continue that trend, Heater probably won’t be able to do so this season. He will need to mold an effective group rather than cultivate a transcendent talent, because Marshall’s defense loses seven starters from last year’s club.

It starts up front with the defensive line.

The Herd have an excellent tandem at the end slots with Gary Thompson — who finished second in the conference in sacks last season — and Gary Bee, an all-freshman selection in 2015. Heater and head coach Doc Holliday will need to plug up the middle as they try to replace Rico Williams and Jarquez Samuel; interior linemen Tomell One, Channing Hames, Jason Smith and Nyquan Harris are all possible solutions. Holliday thinks the unit will be more athletic in 2016.

At linebacker, McKelvey’s shoes may be too large to replace — at least in a one-year span — while the Herd also lose an All-Conference Honorable Mention selection, D.J. Hunter. Once more, however, there are options to build an optimal core between the hashmarks.

Davon Durant, a former five-star prospect from the junior college ranks, could be an immediate fill-in. Former defensive lineman Damien Dozier shifts to the SAM position, and Holliday apparently has high regard for 6-foot-4 freshman Omari Cobb.

Last but not least is the secondary, an area that’s been efficient under Heater. Rodney Allen and Chris Jackson are expected to be on opposite islands, but knowing Heater, he wants the flexibility to interchange cornerbacks.

“That’s not enough,” Heater told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “You need three and you’d like to have four or five.”

Heater’s cornerback group will receive reinforcements from a plethora of young players, most notably JUCO transfer Dontrell Johnson, Tramell Carey, and Jaylon McClain-Sapp, a promising, athletic freshman from Jacksonville. The Herd will have the luxury of working with newcomer C.J. Reavis at safety, and graduate transfer Terry Richardson could be a valuable cog at nickelback.

Heater’s had no trouble turning the common defender into a superstar. Moreover, there may be more diamonds in the rough with the aforementioned list of potential newcomers. The difference this fall for the Herd may, however, be a model of distributed production instead of a handful of high-caliber players loading up on stats.

It’ll be a trying season for Marshall, whose bye week falls on September 3, the opening week of 2016. That equates to a 12- or 13-game stretch for the Thundering Herd (13 if Marshall makes the C-USA title game). Many bodies will be needed.

Marshall’s opponents will require a ton of maturity from the Herd throughout the season, primarily in the secondary. The Herd’s first true test on defense comes in Week 4 versus Louisville and dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson; Marshall will also have to keep Middle Tennessee, Southern Mississippi and Western Kentucky — a trio of high-powered offenses — at bay in 2016.

Good luck to Heater, but knowing the long-tenured defensive coordinator, he won’t need it.

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