BOGACZYK: Herd Receivers Hope to Catch Opportunity
The Word on the Herd-Aug. 8, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – In Marshall’s wide receivers’ meeting room in the basement of the Shewey Building, opportunity knocks.
Tommy Shuler’s 322 career receptions are history in more ways than one. The slot receiver who teamed with longtime buddy Rakeem Cato in a record-setting, Miami-to-Marshall passing combination is certainly not forgotten, but Shuler has a new anonymity among the 2015 Herd receiver corps.
With the No. 4-ranked career receptions leader in major-college history out of the picture – and with a new quarterback starter in Michael Birdsong – the Herd catchers realize what could be in their grasp. Ask the leader of that group – redshirt senior outside receiver Davonte Allen – how it will be different catching balls from Birdsong rather than Cato, and he sums it up like this:
“The pigskin is going to be the pigskin, so any way it comes, we’ve got to catch it.”
That’s what third-year Marshall receivers coach Mike Furrey wants. Marshall lost 525 career receptions since last season, and Allen is the “leader in the clubhouse,” with 43.
That doesn’t mean the Herd pass catchers are walking around like Linus Van Pelt without his security blanket. It’s Allen, Deon-Tay McManus, Hyleck Foster, Angelo Jean-Louis, Justin Hunt, Josh Knight, Emanuel Beal, Raylen Elzy … and don’t forget starting sophomore tight end Ryan Yurachek.
“Absolutely, it’s opportunity,” Furrey said, grinning. “Tommy will be mad at me when he reads this, but Josh Knight said something today about our past, and I said, ‘I don’t even know who that is.’ So, it’s now. The past is a receiver who was here.
“But Josh said, ‘I saw him (Shuler) do this.’ And I said, ‘Who? I have no idea who you’re talking about. This is now. It’s your turn. It you guys’ turn for that role.’ And that role isn’t ‘Shu’ anymore. It’s our H (slot receiver).
“Don’t tell Tommy; he’ll be mad, but it’s their job now. That role, here’s what it is: Get open, make great decisions, and catch the football. Our role on the outside? Make big plays because you’re going to be stretching it down the field. Make huge plays and always be that outlet and go-to guy.
“They all have to be ready and they’d all better be on point.”
It’s a new equal opportunity in the Herd air game, after 31 percent of Cato’s completions in the last three seasons were 297 Shuler catches. Allen, now healthy – he missed four games in the middle of last season with a collarbone injury – said last season’s emergence by freshmen McManus, Jean-Louis, Foster and Yurachek made a world of difference.
That quartet tied for the lead in FBS touchdown catches by freshmen (17) and ranked fifth in reception yardage (1,315).
“We’re very comfortable after last year,” the 6-foot-2, 197-pound Allen said. “It was like everybody brought something different to the table, and it’s still a young group, but it’s an experienced group now with all of the playing time.
“We’re just jelling together and trying to make things happen, so there shouldn’t be any dropoff. I’m trying to stay focused and lead by example. I know I can’t say something and then turn around and do the wrong thing myself. That puts all of the pressure on me, but I like that.”
Furrey is counting on more than production from his lone senior on the unit.
I told Davonte the other day, ‘When you line up -- every time you daggone stinkin’ line up – you’d better expect the ball and want that ball … and he does. So, that’s our guy. We need to get the ball to Davonte and let him do his stuff, let him outrun people and go up and do his stuff and get it.
“And I tell you, I’ve been very, very impressed with Hunt since the spring, and he has carried that over. We know what McManus can do. He just needs to continue to mature as well. Hyleck inside, once that maturity goes a little bit further, he’ll be over the hump at H, and I’m hoping that will be in this camp. Angelo, I don’t know where he’ll be (inside or outside) yet. But we know what he can do … and they all do it in different ways.”
Marshall’s receiving corps is deeper – and with more speed and strength – than it was a year ago at this time. And that’s not just the case because the physicality of the 6-2, 227-pound McManus was still at tight end in camp a year ago.
McManus (26), Allen (22), Jean-Louis (21) and Foster (18) combined for 87 receptions and 19 touchdowns last season, while Shuler piled up 92 – after back-to-back 100-catch seasons – and nine scores.
Furrey figures the receiving corps could have three players in the 50-catch vicinity, rather than one in the 100-catch neighborhood. So, why many of the students are the same as the wide-eyed group he challenged a year ago – and the challenge was met – the teaching is different for 2015.
“Now, we’re not teaching guys how to be role players,” Furrey said. “We’re teaching guys how you’d better be accountable to one another because in our offense that ball can go anywhere we want now. “In the beginning of the season last year, it was outside, outside (with Shuler doubled and bracketed), then later in the season it became inside and outside. Then it became everything, and that’s how it is right now. We’re not isolated. Our guys have got to be ready every single play,
“Now, it’s ‘Hey, you should be big-time; you should be big time, so you’d better be in it together. One play you could be making the big play, the next one, you could be making the big play. This is all progression now; this isn’t isolation and it’s how we’re teaching it now, making sure everybody’s on the same page, and then Davonte is making sure they’re all accountable to what we’re doing.”
Furrey said one goal in the receivers’ group in August camp is aiding Birdsong’s comfort level in deciding what he can throw – and to whom – and when.
“He’s got to see our guys getting open for himself,” Furrey said. “When he gets comfortable something will be open, he’ll throw it. What our guys are saying to ourselves in our room is no matter what makes him comfortable, we will make the play.”
Allen said despite the move from Cato to Birdsong, one thing doesn’t change … and it was something for which Shuler was reliable.
“We just look at it like … if the ball comes our way, make a play. We try to not pay attention to what’s changed. One thing hasn’t changed. As long as the ball is in the air and we’re in line to it, make the play. “We try to attack the meeting room like we do practice. There isn’t much of a difference. It’s still about staying focused, learn what we’ve got to work on each day, perfect our craft.”