BOGACZYK: Herd's Furrey Likes Spring Look of WRs
The Word on the Herd-April 13, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- In the last three seasons, Tommy Shuler caught 308 passes at his slot receiver spot for Marshall. With 322 career receptions, Shuler ranks fourth in catches in major college football history.
As the Thundering Herd heads into Week 4 for its five weeks of 2015 spring practice, Shuler is gone but not forgotten, as third-year receivers coach Mike Furrey looks to replace those numbers with a new distribution plan.
In Furrey's two previous seasons on the Herd sideline, no other wide receiver has had as many as 40 receptions, while Shuler posted 106 and 92 to follow his school-record 110 in 2012. That season -- when then-sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato didn't have the run game the Herd possesses now -- Antavious Wilson had 69 and Aaron Dobson 57 to go with Shuler's triple-digit year.
A year ago, Furrey and Coach Doc Holliday challenged the MU outside receivers to be more reliable and make more plays. A young group did just that. Four freshmen receivers -- Angelo Jean-Louis and Deon-Tay McManus outside, Hyleck Foster inside and tight end Ryan Yurachek -- ranked fifth in the FBS in reception yards (1,315) by freshmen, and tied Oregon for the most freshman TD receptions (17).
That was then ...
"There's no Tommy, and it's a different challenge," Furrey said of a very young receiving corps led by redshirt senior Davonte Allen. "The message is -- and we've talked about it the other day -- is I hope there are five or six guys who all have the same amount of catches, 50-plus.
"That's what we want, to be so consistent that if you take one away, we still have plenty. A couple years ago, they just tried to take Tommy away and made us become outside-dominant. And then last year they tried to take the outside guys away toward the middle of the season, and then Tommy became dominant again (53 catches in the last six games).
"So, we want to try to get to the mark where, `Hey, (an opponent) better pick ... `Today we're going to stop the slots,' and we'll get our outsides go to work, or the next week they're trying to stop the outsides, so our slots are open. So, all three receivers who are on the field at the same time, they have to be that main guy."
If there's been a top five in spring drills, they have been Allen and McManus outside with the "ones," and Jean-Louis getting increased reps in the slot, where Foster backed up Shuler last season. The emergence of junior Justin Hunt has opened eyes, too, said Furrey, the former seven-year NFL veteran.
"There's not just one guy who's dominant in that room anymore," the Herd assistant coach said. "We want to be a three-, four-, five-headed monster, and when we need to rotate we can rotate and there's no dropoff.
"And when the quarterback has to throw us the ball, he doesn't have any question in his mind. He can go to any one of us and we can be reliable. And that's my challenge right now, is to get all those guys to be that guy."
Allen is healthy after returning from a collarbone fracture he suffered in a Week 4 win at Akron last season. In Allen and McManus at X and Z, respectively, the Herd will have two outside receivers who not only can run and jump, but are more than 200 pounds.
"Davonte, he's been hurt a lot, but there's no pressure; he just goes and plays," Furrey said. "He's got one year left and he knows that. Deon-Tay brings us a physical presence and is a good target. He loves to play the game, loves to compete, and he's hungry. He's picked up pretty well what we do offensively, and he's got a lot of things going on right now that are good to see.
"We've got talent on the inside, too."
Furrey -- he ranked second in the 2006 NFL season with 98 catches for Detroit -- said it was a good winter for the Herd pass catchers, too.
"Hyleck and Davonte and Deon-Tay -- and I'll even throw Angelo in there -- they all made strides in the offseason," Furrey said. "I say that because of the way they've developed themselves physically in the weight room, and it shows and they've all become a different player.
"They had the speed, the hands, but now they've added that physicality. Hyleck was about 180 (pounds) at most, now he's 192. Davonte was 190 and had shoulder and other injuries and now for the first time he had an offseason where he could work. He's 200-plus and his strength is back. He's much stronger. I think McManus broke every record possible in the weight room for receivers. Angelo's put on 10 pounds or so.
"The guy right now who has really put a foot in the ground and said, `Hey, this is my time,' is Justin Hunt. He's had several days here that have been completely different since Day 1 when he got here (August 2013). He's been a different player. And (junior) Josh Knight, he's inside, outside, either. He's my main utility guy. He can do everything, all three spots. If we need to give someone a break for him to go in and plug, he's going in there."
Although the receiving corps has been coping with rotating quarterbacks as the Herd searches for the starter to succeed four-year starter and Shuler's Miami buddy Rakeem Cato, Furrey said the transition has gone well for his group.
The receivers see the opportunity to catch more balls, too, with the Cato-to-Shuler combination -- on which the QB had his slot man as a security blanket of sorts -- having checked their numbers into the Marshall record book.
The move of Jean-Louis into the slot gives the Herd what Furrey has been seeking, too.
"Hyleck's not going to be able to play every play," Furrey said. "Tommy last year, when he really went hard, he couldn't play 80-90 plays a game; he needed to play about 70. We've got to have somebody behind Hyleck to help him.
"Gator Green is there, but he's still transitioning from an athlete to a wideout, and it's gotten a lot better, but he knows he still has a lot to work on. Hopefully by the end of spring, he's somebody who has pushed forward enough that we can trust to put in there."
Furrey likes what he has seen of redshirt freshman Emanuel Beal and true freshman Raylen Elzy, too.
"Beal, we don't know yet because last year, the first day of camp, he takes `Swagg' (NFL cornerback prospect Darryl Roberts) and throws him down on the ground and runs a 10-yard in and snatches it out of the air and goes 60 (yards)," Furrey said. "And then we didn't know where he went for about 18 weeks, you know?
"Well, he did the same thing, Day 1, here again this year. And he lost it a little bit. He knows he's a target, slowly getting back. If he keeps coming, you've got him, Deon-Tay, Davonte, Angelo, Hunt there's going to be some fighting about who's going into the game.
"Elzy is raw. He just got here (in January). He's a 6-5, 205-pound kid, never been in a weight room before and my son probably benches more than he does, but he's never had strength training. And when you're that big, you've got to be physical, especially at the line of scrimmage so people can't just hold you up, because he has to get into his stride to play the way he can play.
"He's a pup, but one thing about him is he's hungry. He wants to work. He wants to be good. He wants to learn, has a great catch radius and when the light goes on about what play I'm running when we go full-speed and how to do it, he's definitely someone who's going to contribute to our football program.
"Now, the question is, this year? That's going to be up to him, but it's good he's here now so he has spring and camp to figure that out."
Furrey's receiving corps is deep enough this spring, and figures to add several competitors when the 2015 signing class arrives this summer. Those newcomers will be in a long line when August camp rolls around, however.
"We've got all the intangibles," Furrey said. "We just have to put it all together."