April 10, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Last season, Marshall wide receivers caught 328 passes.
In the Thundering Herd’s prolific air attack, then-sophomore slot man Tommy Shuler grabbed a school-record 110, but the next two receivers in numbers – Antavious Wilson and top NFL Draft prospect Aaron Dobson – are gone this spring.
However, Coach Doc Holliday’s program has a 98-catch guy from one NFL season to take up the slack.
That’s new wideouts coach Mike Furrey, most recently head coach at NAIA member Kentucky Christian, but more notable in his new job for his seven NFL seasons with St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland.
Furrey likes the talent and depth he inherited. What he’s bringing to Shuler and Co. are some of the tricks of the trade in the NFL, where he had 221 receptions for 2,298 career yards.
Then, he says it’s not so much about his receptions, but his reception.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I really like where we are,” said Furrey, whose unit will reach the midpoint of 15 spring practices with the Herd on Thursday. “When you get a new guy in the room (Furrey), he’s got some different things he brings, and there’s always the chemistry to deal with, the camaraderie. You have to jell together, and I’m really pleased with the way that’s been received.
“These guys are really buying into the teaching, buying into coming out here and working hard, paying attention, not playing games or anything like that. They’re coming out to work and that’s really, really neat to watch. And because of it, we’re getting better every single day. Every guy in our group has gotten better every single day.”
His top two groups through most of the workouts have had senior Demetrius Evans
and junior Craig Wilkins
outside, with Shuler inside, backed up by junior Dameon Garrett
, Shawney Kersey (outside) and Devon Smith
(inside). Kersey and Smith are senior Penn State transfers.
Furrey’s practice bunch hasn’t regularly included sophomore Davonte Allen and junior Jazz King, who are rehabbing offseason surgeries.
When asked how much or how little the Herd receivers know about playing their positions – like where an NFL-experienced teacher can help – the 36-year-old Furrey said what he has are classrooms inside the Shewey Building and on the Edwards Stadium turf.
“First of all, you’re not always surprised when kids come from high school to college that they don’t understand when you run a route, it’s the whole entire route, not just at the beginning or at the top, but through the whole thing,” Furrey said. “It’s start to finish, and we’ve had a lot of work on that since I’ve been here.
“It’s one big thing I want to make sure our guys do, and it was an adjustment for every single one of them. It will make them better receivers and make us a better team. The neatest thing is, a lot of guys in our room, starting with Tommy, you don’t have to educate them on how to play the game, how to figure things out, how to feel things. And those are things that are hard to coach.”
Furrey said those “football smarts’ helped the Herd offense get where it went last season, to the top 10 in FBS in passing, total offense and scoring.
“If you have those things, it really helps,” Furrey said. “Obviously Tommy has it; that’s why he gets open. Craig has it; he just has to have that chance to display it. ‘Meech’ (Evans) knows; you’ve just got to slow everything down.
“The thing I’ve been pleased with that they had when I got here was understanding the game, understanding situations, leverages, and now we just have to go out and attack and use that, work through the whole route to finish where we need to get.”
Furrey said the former Penn State pair will pay dividends, but the 6-foot-1 Kersey and 5-6 Smith are works in progress, and for different reasons.
“You know what? They’re still learning, still trying to get comfortable,” the Herd receivers coach said. ‘Shawney has kind of come out of his shell pretty well. ‘Moo-Moo’ is still hurting from his (surgery for a recurring mid-foot sprain), getting the pin out. He’s probably not going to be full-go until the summertime, when we get back in August.
“When you’re running around and something hurts, you’re not going to be full speed, not be full speed mentally, because you’re always going to have that in the back of your mind. So, he’s hurting a little bit but he shows, obviously, when he catches the ball and outruns the defense with a hurt ankle he’s going to be all right in the fall.
“Shawney’s really coming along. He had a rough first three or four practices, but by about Practice 5 he started understanding the signals, understanding where to line up, what the route concepts were and that allows him to be more comfortable. And he can run.”
Furrey said that come August, the depth at the position will be enhanced by Allen and King, who combined for 27 catches as backups last season.
“Allen’s a potential big-time player, when he gets healthy, but he’s in 6-8 weeks recovery after he broke a foot,” Furrey said. “But obviously from last year, what you saw, his experience, speed, he’s an athlete.
“And we miss Jazz now. He can play, be a really good player. At this point, I wish I could get my hand on him, but he had surgery on a shoulder labrum in January and he’s still recovering.
“When we get those two back, this is going to be a pretty neat group.”
Furrey said neither he nor his receivers underestimate the other end of their equation – the on-time and on-target deliveries by the Herd quarterbacks, in particular returning conference USA Player of the Year Rakeem Cato.
Furrey just grinned when asked about that, having experienced such bulls-eye work on a daily basis in the NFL.
‘When you play receiver, you see things as you run routes,” the Herd assistant coach said. “You see a linebacker drop and so you see where you have to get into a hole, and settle down in holes, and back throws, all those kind of things. And when you have a QB who sees the same thing and throws the ball on time where it’s supposed to be, it’s pretty neat.
“It’s neat to watch, and it’s pretty neat to be a receiver doing that, too. Because you know you’re going to catch a lot of balls, and the ball’s going to be where it’s supposed to be. Obviously, that’s why they’ve had a lot of success.
“And we can’t just maintain that. We can’t be satisfied. We’ve just got to keep getting better and better and get more guys involved doing the same thing.”