The Adjustment That Made 5-Star Iman Marshall the Most Feared CB in 2015 Class

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The Adjustment That Made 5-Star Iman Marshall the Most Feared CB in 2015 Class
Credit: 247Sports

Iman Marshall sensed he was on the verge of stardom after his sophomore season. Early scholarship offers from USC, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Florida State cemented his spot as a coveted cornerback recruit in the 2015 class.

However, his 5-star status simply wasn't enough. There was still work to be done.

Despite an array of accolades, the Long Beach, California, product known as "Biggie" recognized he remained a work in progress. His father, Tony Marshall, made sure he didn't forget it.

"I’m lucky to have a dad who really pays attention to the way I play on a daily basis and identifies what I need to work on," Marshall said. "I kind of struggled with tackling during my sophomore year. He noticed it and talked to me about how it was holding me back from reaching my full potential."

Since that epiphany, his progress has proven again you can't put a price on fatherly advice.

"Our conversations helped change my mindset about how to play the game," he said.

Marshall blossomed into a balanced defensive back during his junior campaign, shutting down opponents through the air and on the ground. The combination proved disastrous for opposing offenses. 

The 6'1", 190-pound Long Beach Poly High School standout earned 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Long Beach Press-Telegram. His improvement in perimeter and downfield run coverage resulted in a career-high 64 tackles, validating an altered outlook.

"I learned that you just can’t be afraid of contact," Marshall said. "You have to get your nose in there and get after the ball. That’s not what I always did before, but it's definitely the way I play now."

He also stymied aerial attacks with greater efficiency than ever as a junior. Marshall didn't allow a single pass completion in six Moore League matchups, each resulting in a victory.

His signature effort occurred during a pivotal 35-28 victory over perennial state title contender Corona Centennial. Marshall thrived in man coverage, shutting down 6'3" wide receiver Barry Ware, a 4-star prospect who signed with Washington State.

Part of his approach against taller receivers includes a relentless effort to fight for position and knock opponents off balance upon the snap. Unlike finesse cornerbacks, Marshall likes to mix it up early in the progression of a play.

"He's really impressive at the line," 4-star Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome said at The Opening, an annual invite-only prospect showcase held each July at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. 

"He jams you up and you can tell he's been working on that part of his game because the technique is solid. You have to respect him because he's a humble guy and lets his play do the talking."

Newsome, a burner who holds offers from Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and UCLA, shared his assessment with several highly skilled receivers in Beaverton. Top-ranked pass-catcher Calvin Ridley earned seven-on-seven tournament MVP honors, but even he had to tip his cap to the smothering Southern California defender.

"Marshall is the No. 1 cornerback in this class," the Alabama commit said. "I caught a big pass against him but he was always right on me, fighting for the ball. He doesn't fall for any moves either so he stays with you the whole time."

His aggressive style of play puts passers in a precarious situation. When downfield targets struggle to find space, it creates opportunities for the defensive front to generate a pass rush.

"Receivers really have to fight to get open against him because he always seems to be on the attack," 5-star Alabama quarterback pledge Blake Barnett said. "He's pretty fearless. That definitely doesn't make it easy on us quarterbacks."

USC commit Ricky Town credits Marshall's intelligence as a key factor in his effectiveness.

"You can tell how much he understands the mental part of this game," the 5-star passer said. "A lot of defensive backs have the size and speed but get lost in coverage. He can do it all."

Marshell views himself as a student of the game. Countless hours of film study and playbook adjustments allow him to adapt on a game-by-game basis, consistently creating problems for opponents.

"Preparation is so important because it helps you react as quickly as possible and that’s what playing defensive back is all about," he said. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."

Credit: 247Sports
Marshall puts plenty of emphasis on the mental aspects of football.

Marshall is versatile enough to shadow receivers of all statures, from shifty slot guys to towering targets. His anticipation helps him maintain stride-for-stride coverage and disrupt passing lanes at various vertical points.

"I’m always trying to make the most of each play by competing at a high level, regardless of who's lined up across from me," Marshall said. "I can play press or man defense. I can handle big and small receivers. I can help the defense out at cornerback, safety or at the nickel."

His whatever-it-takes attitude has won over plenty of prospects and coaches on the recruiting trail. Marshall, rated sixth overall nationally in 247Sports' recruiting rankings, carries dozens of scholarship offers.

College programs across the country continue to pursue him with all their resources as time ticks toward national signing day. Pac-12 contenders USC, Stanford and UCLA loom large but make no mistake, this is a nationwide chase.

LSU, Texas and Notre Dame provide potential landing spots beyond state borders, while an SEC squad recently entered the equation, according to Marshall.

"Texas A&M is a team I’ve become interested in," he said. "They’re up-and-coming and I’ve had a chance to get to know some of their commits. The program stands out to me."

It's big news for the Aggies, as head coach Kevin Sumlin attempts to elevate a defensive unit that has lagged behind the team's explosive offensive attack in recent years. However, Marshall remains a long way off from any commitment and admits he may be waiting too long to focus on finding the right college fit.

"I’m trying to weigh it all out because I want to make a sure and sound decision," he said. "I want to feel like I dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s during the process. The last thing I want to do is rush into a decision then regret it later and change my mind. I’ve kind of kept recruiting on the back-burner but it’s getting to the point where I understand I really need to start making some moves. No more delaying."

Due to his uncommitted status and supreme skills, Marshall was the recipient of several sales pitches at The Opening.

"I don't think there's a guy in this class who wouldn't want to team up with Biggie at the next level," 4-star USC cornerback commit Isaiah Langley said. "Everyone is trying to get him on board, including me."

If he does end up wearing a Trojans jersey—which is projected to happen by 100 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball—it would set the stage for showdowns with 5-star UCLA pledge Josh Rosen.

"He definitely challenges you," the nation's top-rated passer said. "It forces you to bring your best on each and every play. You can't afford to make a mistake."

Abundant admiration from fellow competitors is greatly appreciated by Marshall. In fact, it's paramount among goals he aims to achieve throughout his playing career.

"The most important thing is earning respect from your peers," Marshall said. "It’s an honor to be considered a top defensive back by some of the best quarterbacks and receivers in the country. I feel blessed about that."

Marshall patterns his game after former cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft. He cites the former Michigan State playmaker's physicality and relentlessness as traits to emulate.

To this point, his imitation is Hollywood-worthy.

"He's No. 1 for a reason," 5-star Georgia receiver commit Terry Godwin said. "He's physical, fast and he's a competitor. I like that. He's the kind of player who makes this game special."

Credit: 247Sports

Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of Marshall's premier contemporaries at cornerback, lauded that physical nature.

"He's another one of those bigger corners who can impact the game with his size," Fitzpatrick said. "He roughs up receivers off the line. I also think his football IQ stands out."

Again, Marshall's smarts are routinely pinpointed as an asset.

"Biggie is the best cornerback I've faced by far," 5-star Arizona receiver Christian Kirk said. "When I go up against him, I have to pull out everything I can because I know he's going to be ready to react."

That isn't by coincidence, Kirk explained.  

"Every time there's new information available and a chance to work on his craft, he's all over it," he said. "He's a sponge when it comes to learning and understanding new stuff because he wants to be ready for what the offense is doing at all times. You've got to respect that competitive attitude."

Marshall underwent an upgrade during his junior season and must take another step forward this fall. Pressure is in place following the departure of 5-star Long Beach Poly defensive back John Smith, who is now a freshman at USC.

"It was his team last year, it’s my team now," Marshall said." I have to be a leader and set the example. We want to do big things this season, and it’s my responsibility to make sure we get where we want to be. I've prepared for this moment."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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