July 10, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - One of the more intriguing position battles in Marshall's football preseason camp next month will be at wide receiver, where the Herd had major losses but still has excellent depth.
Davonte Allen intends to help make it interesting.
New Thundering Herd receivers coach and one-time NFL pass catcher Mike Furrey has plenty of candidates for two outside and two inside spots, with 2012 school-record man Tommy Shuler (110 receptions) manning one of the latter.
The Herd lost 85 career starts at wideout, led by New England Patriots rookie Aaron Dobson and fellow 2012 senior Antavious Wilson. Allen opened more than a few eyes the second half of last season when he and Demetrius Evans spelled Dobson, who suffered a knee sprain in a Nov. 3 win over Memphis.
Allen, a redshirt sophomore from Belle Glade, Fla., then dealt with a setback, missing spring practice after fracturing the fourth metatarsal in his right foot. He's back in the weight room this summer, hoping to finally make the most of an opportunity.
"It was tough missing spring practice," Allen said after his Wednesday workout. "I came in and got a lot of mental reps in the spring, and then they'd go out there and I couldn't. It's hard looking at your teammates working and you can't be out there with them."
Talk about terrible timing ... Allen said he "felt the pop" while running offseason routes three weeks before spring ball started.
That followed struggles with his right hamstring early last season, after the 6-foot-2, 194-pounder made his college debut with two receptions in the season-opening loss at West Virginia.
"It's just tough to have those things happen," he said, "but that's how it is at times. I'm working hard, trying to get back."
Allen would seem to figure prominently at the X receiver, Dobson's old spot, after 12 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns in nine games a year ago.
"I go back and watched games Allen played in the past, and it's obvious he's an exceptional athlete," Furrey said. "He's got all the ability as a receiver that you kind of want if you draw it up, but he's got to stay healthy. And if he stays healthy, the limitations are what he'll set.
"He's a hard worker. I know that, and I know he's a bit frustrated because he wanted to be out there in the spring. But from what I've seen, he's got great potential."
Back to that Memphis game in which Dobson was injured on the first play ...
Allen made four catches for 87 yards, including a crucial 28-yard scoring reception from Rakeem Cato on fourth-and-6. All of Allen's receptions went for first downs. Three were for more than 20 yards on third or fourth downs.
Two weeks later as the Herd edged Houston, Cato hit Allen for a 46-yard score.
As for the comparison to Dobson some Herd fans have made, well, a year ago Dobson was among MU's fastest three in summer workouts, but Allen's 40-inch vertical leap was tops on the team (tied with running back Steward Butler and safety D.J. Hunter).
Allen's 10-foot, 8-inch long jump was the Herd's best.
"Yes, sir, it's a big opportunity with (Dobson and Wilson) gone. We sat back and learned from them, watched everything they did, reading coverages, and they did a really good job. Now, it's time for us to step up.
"I think right now, in summer workouts, everybody is on the same page coming into fall camp. Everybody goes in wanting to start, but all of us will compete for the starting role."
Furrey has plenty of horses in his stable and is anxious to see Allen on the field when preseason drills begin Aug. 5.
"Obviously, his biggest threat is he can extend the field," the Herd receivers coach said of Allen. "He can go over the top, with a lot of speed, and he's a long strider, so he covers a lot of ground.
"So if you look at our (receivers) room, look at him, he's 6-2, 6-3, long-striding guy, can take it over the top. That's something that we need and it's an element he can bring to us."
Allen said the Herd receivers who have been in the program - to be joined by promising incoming freshmen Justin Hunt and Josh Knight - have gained different knowledge from Furrey and his predecessor, Gerad Parker, now on the Purdue staff.
"They both bring a lot to the table," Allen said. "Coach Furrey, he brings attention to detail with getting in and out of breaks, movement off the line. Coach Parker was more a route-type guy, the whole complete route, got to finish, the blocking techniques. Both teach different things. That helps us."
Allen's goals for 2013?
"We've got to get to a championship, we need that," he said. "For myself, play as hard as I can, help my team."
Staying healthy is part of that for all of his pass catchers, Furrey said.
"Spring ball went well for a lot of people,' he said. "I don't think it really hurt anybody, but I don't think we really had a spring where it helped anybody. I think this August, the pads are on, it's time to get ready for games.
"We've got Allen coming off an injury, Jazz King coming off an injury, Devon Smith the same. So, you go through spring and everybody gets to go home, get the playbook understood, come back, work out, be comfortable and I think that's where you're going to see the biggest changes in our guys.
"The good thing is, it's going to be real competitive. No one is going to be guaranteed. It's not like you're a returning starter, like Tommy's (Shuler) situation. These guys have got to come back ready to go."
# # #
Make it 3-for-3.
For the third consecutive day, the Herd had one of its stars named to a preseason watch list for a national award. This time, on Wednesday, it was sophomore punter Tyler Williams, who is among a 25-man list of candidates for the Ray Guy Award.
Williams was one of 10 semifinalists for the honor as a freshman last season, when the Oregon native and Fort Wayne, Ind., resident posted a 45.2-yard average. That's the Marshall single-season record, formerly held by Travis Colquitt (45.1 in 1994).
On Monday, MU quarterback Rakeem Cato was named to the 76-player Maxwell Award Watch List. The Maxwell annually is presented to the nation's top player. A day later, Herd senior Gator Hoskins was one of 37 players on the John Mackey Award Watch List, for the country's top tight end.
Williams was the top freshman punter in major college football and became a quick answer to a major question mark Coach Doc Holliday's team had heading into last season.
Williams averaged more than 50 yards per punt in three games (West Virginia, Rice, East Carolina). Of his 43 punts, 13 went for 50 or more yards, including three of more than 60, with a long of 66 at Rice.
Two previous Herd punters made the Guy Award Watch List - Curtis Head (2002) and Kase Whitehead (2011). The award was established in 2000.
As a senior, Head was on the preseason list like Williams. Whitehead was a midseason addition two years ago as a senior.