By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — When you share a first name with one of the greatest athletes of all time, it’s wise to make a good first impression.
And in his first days on the practice field as a Seattle Seahawk, defensive end Cassius Marsh did just that.
“He looked very good, he was by far the most active guy out there,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the fourth-round pick, who was named after Cassius Clay, the former heavyweight better known as Muhammad Ali, his name after converting to Islam.
Granted, Marsh was going against fellow rookies as well as tryout players who won’t have NFL careers — things will get much more difficult when he’s facing experienced NFL linemen later this offseason. But Marsh was easily one of the most impressive players over the past three days, consistently blowing past would-be blockers on his way into the backfield. The Seahawks expect a lot out of the versatile lineman from UCLA because they invested a mid-round pick on him, and for Marsh, the man named after “The Greatest,” high expectations are nothing new.
“My dad’s been on me about it since I can really remember,” Marsh said. “I’ve always known I had a special name and a name to live up to.”
Of course a famous name doesn’t mean squat in the NFL if you can’t back it up with performance, which is exactly what Marsh did in his first weekend with his new team. The Seahawks used Marsh, who played both tackle and end at UCLA, in a variety of roles — think Michael Bennett last season — and regardless of where he lined up, Marsh was a force.
“First, he came in in great shape, he was really flying the whole time; he never showed any signs at all of wearing down,” Carroll said. “He’s a very active, very instinctive football player. He moved around to a couple of different spots to give us some looks. That’s pretty exciting, pretty exciting he’s so active. The role we talked about, kind of like Michael Bennett, it looks like that might have a chance, but we’ll take a lot of time to figure that out.”
To say Marsh is Seattle’s next Michael Bennett would be wildly premature. Bennett was one of the Seahawks’ best defensive players last season, and was rewarded as such in free agency, while Marsh is yet to face real NFL competition, even in practice. But Marsh’s tenacity and pass-rushing ability makes it easy to see why Carroll makes the comparison, even if the 6-foot-4, 254-pound Marsh still needs to put on a bit of weight to physically match up with Bennett. And while he knows he has a ways to go to play like Bennett, Marsh certainly welcomes the comparison.
“Oh yeah, I love his game,” Marsh said. “It’s like an advanced version of mine, I’d like to think. It’s very powerful, extremely quick, great with his hands, just a relentless player, and I love watching the entire defensive line play. There’s something to learn from all the guys. Bennett is more of a player like me — or me like him — but there’s something to learn from everybody on the defensive line.”
That Marsh mentions Bennett’s hands is hardly an accident. One of the things that helped Marsh stand out at UCLA, as well as in his first minicamp, is his ability to use his hands to beat blockers. Carroll mentioned it this weekend, and west coast area scout Tyler Ramsey mentioned Marsh’s hands five different times while talking about him following Day 2 of the draft.
Marsh says some of that comes from natural ability, some of it from good coaching in high school and at UCLA, and some of it from doing mixed martial arts training.
Despite the MMA training (and the first name), Marsh’s answer when asked if he’s actually taken that training into the ring for a live fight was, “No, no, no, no, no. I’m a football player. I’m a football player, guys.”
But even if he’s not going to step in the ring anytime soon, it seems appropriate nonetheless that a guy named Cassius is making a good first impression thanks to his hands.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.