July 17, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – What a difference four months make … at least in the wideouts’ room in the lower level of the Shewey Building at Marshall.
Back in late March, as 2014 spring practice was about to begin, Herd wide receivers coach Mike Furrey had two words when he was asked to run through the two- or three-deep roster at the three receiver spots on Coach Doc Holliday’s team.
“Tommy Shuler,” Furrey answered with the name of the Herd senior slot receiver who is one of only eight players in major college football history with two seasons of 100 or more receptions.
Furrey, a seven-year NFL veteran (2003-09) in his second year on the Marshall staff, smiled when he said it, but he might have been speaking through gritted teeth. It was no joking matter.
He wondered who might emerge – in particular at the two outside spots – as he looked for a movie title from Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore.
Well, it seems Furrey has found a few good men as preseason camp begins in 2 1/2 weeks.
“I think I was really excited coming out of spring,” Furrey said. “It was about having guys on the outside, not just role players, but really guys who started coming in on their own and giving (quarterback Rakeem) Cato other options, more than just two -- the tight end and inside receiver.
“We need that to make our offense balanced. I’m pretty excited about four or five guys that we feel came a long way in the spring. It’s going to be interesting here in the fall if they can build on that. They’ve had a great summer, so we need to keep progressing.”
A finally healthy Davonte Allen jumped out at Furrey in the spring, and as camp begins, the redshirt junior is the starter at one outside spot (X). Furrey said sophomore Justin Hunt, redshirt sophomore Chris Alston and redshirt freshman Rodney Allen are next in line.
During spring practice senior Demetrius Evans
was moved inside to work behind Shuler and Deandre Reaves
, who also is the Herd’s top kick and punt return man. Senior Craig Wilkins
returns after a 32-catch season in 2013 as the other outside starter (Z), where he is challenged by talented redshirt freshman Angelo Jean-Louis and 2014 recruit Emanuel Beal, whom Furrey is anxious to see once camp opens.
“Davonte Allen had a heckuva spring and obviously we’re really excited about him,” Furrey said. “Justin Hunt had a great spring; Jean-Louis, Craig Wilkins had great springs, too.”
Furrey saw what he wanted to see and it was about using your head as much as your hands for those candidates.
“I think when you play wide receiver, the biggest thing is going out every day and competing,” Furrey said this week. “Be consistent with that. I mean every play -- being hungry for the ball, wanting to get better, wanting to be a better route-runner, wanting to be more polished.
“But still, I think the biggest thing is being able to compete. On the outside last season into the beginning of this spring, they didn’t understand the fact that you’ve got to come to work every day. And when you line up for every rep, you’ve got to be hungry for the football and expect the ball.
“You’ve got to have a little chip on your shoulder where you’re a little mad when you don’t get the ball. Those are the kind of guys you like to have because they understand that, and you can trust that they’re going to go out and play every play.”
It was obvious as spring drills went deeper into the 15-practice period that Cato was finding more trust in the group. And it’s important that the Herd outside receivers produce and do it consistently, because that could help relieve the bracketing and double-teaming of Shuler, whose 230 career receptions are 76 shy of Josh Davis’ MU career record (306, from 2001-04).
“It’s very important that Cato trusts them and we’re getting there,” Furrey said. “I just think the outside receivers, in general, made good strides. I think a lot of them see the urgency we need out there, and the immediacy in what we need.
“And you’re in a system that throws the ball as much as we do and you’ve got a quarterback like we have, how can you not be excited and want that role?
“There’s got to be a light that eventually goes on where, ‘Hey, it’s time for me to take over, to take the position. I want to be a big-time wideout. I don’t want to be a sidekick.’
“And that went off for some of these guys this past spring.”
A football program that has produced star receivers like Randy Moss, Mike Barber, Troy Brown, Aaron Dobson and Shuler is looking for the next name to go on that list. Furrey said the talent is there, and pointed out Allen and Jean-Louis, in particular, opened eyes in the spring with their rangy speed.
It’s something else the 221-catch player of recent vintage with the Rams, Lions and Browns saw in his group, however.
“The biggest thing they have now is confidence,” Furrey said. “These guys are confident now in more than, ‘Hey, we can go out and line up next to Tommy Shuler.’ They’re confident now that they can go out and say, ‘Hey, Cato needs to throw me the ball. He can throw me the ball.’
“Obviously, confidence is a huge thing in playing wide receiver. Tommy, he’s got confidence.”
Furrey said with August camp around the corner, his other guys are catching on, too.