Day 4 is in the books meaning full-contact Friday less than 24 hours away and the first opportunity to see the 2014 Thundering Herd go full speed in practice. Kind of fitting that thunderstorms are set to arrive tomorrow about the time practice should begin.
Today was the first day since camp opened Monday that all players worked out together. For the freshman and new comers, this was the first time seeing things moving at game speed. Practice certainly had a much faster pace throughout the afternoon.
Teams were divided into how they would play on the field; first team, second team, etc. I will report about how certain positions lined up later in the report.
Coach Holliday said the only difference he saw today was guys didn't get as many reps as they had been getting and doesn't expect a change tomorrow.
“We won’t practice any different tomorrow than we have the past couple days,” Holliday said. “We will continue to rep even some of the young guys the rest of this week and by next week settle in on a two-deep with a couple extra guys and get ready to go play.”
Holliday complimented Foster, Green, Jean-Louis, McManus, Byrd and Pittman on their performance today in practice and said there will be young guys that will play for this team.
Practice operated much like yesterday but with more emphasis on offense and defense skeleton drill and 11-on-11. Special teams worked on kickoff coverage for the first time this week today and continued punt coverage work with a slew of returners getting a chance to show their skills. Red-shirt freshman Kaare Vedvik did the kickoff duties today and sent several kicks 5 to 7 yards deep into the end zone. Curraj did not kick today in practice.
Tyler Williams finally dropped in the elusive “Rugby” punt we have been waiting to see. He hinted earlier this week we could see it. His first punt was a 52-yarder that pinned Tommy Shuler on the near sideline. Punts have been exploding off Williams’ foot in camp and Coach Holliday expects that to continue this season. Reaves, Jean-Louis, Foster, Rowe and Green all took kickoffs today with Shuler, Foster, Green and Rodney Allen field the punts.
Justin Hunt got some first team routes today. In my first skill player rankings, I have him listed as the #6 returning receiver. Hunt had some grabs but still has some work to do if he expects to be a regular come game time later this month.
Davonte Allen continued his stellar performance this week with another solid performance on the field today. His best catch of the afternoon was on a comeback route from Cato that Allen secured in tight coverage and stayed in bounds. Allen has been working with the 1’s in the outside receiver position and at this point in camp, the starting position looks to be his to lose. Allen credits Cato's accuracy for his recent improvements.
"Its a great advantage having Cato," said Allen. "Knowing that every time you run the proper route you will get rewarded for it is a great feeling. I just have to stay focused and work on the little things everyday."
Angelo Jean-Louis (Rookie #3) worked behind Allen and began cementing his name higher on the depth charts after making a spectacular catch on a ball thrown by Gunnar Holcombe that was well behind him. Jean-Louis should see the field plenty this season. Emanuel Beal was the third man to work outside and while some seem to be sold on his ability, I still don’t see him as a consistent receiver to work himself onto the field. Especially with a receiving class that Coach Holliday called “the best receiving class he’s seen since being at Marshall.” He did make a nice “dot the I” catch on the sideline in skeleton drills and did a great job shedding a smothering D’Andre “Chocolate” Wilson to make a grab over the middle. He just seems very slow getting out of his cuts and doesn't seem to run hard until he sees the ball headed his way. Don’t sell this kid short, he just needs more time on the field.
Tommy Shuler had a field day with the rookies secondary including taking freshman Antavis Rowe to school during the skeleton drill. Rowe looked like he was trying to defend 3 people and Shuler took full advantage. Shuler spent most of his practice watching the younger guys run the routes and provided assistance and guidance as needed. Hyleck Foster and Gator Green worked out of the slot today and looked to live up to the hype that surrounds the two of them. I have them ranked as #2 and #1 rookie receivers respectfully and will stand by that until they show me otherwise. Green made a read on a blown defensive coverage in the secondary where he simply jetted straight down the seam and caught the ball in stride on the way to a touchdown. Green and Foster have amazing speed as their teammates often call them the second coming of Shuler. These are two names the Herd faithful will hear plenty of in the future. Deandre Reaves settled in today as he worked several underneath routes that allowed him to catch and run rather than having to work and get open. Reaves speed is certainly his strong point.
Cato made a terrific read on a play during the 11-on-11 drills that caused his quarterback coach Bill Legg to sprint to him in joy and deliver a chest bump. Legg was soon followed by running backs coach Chris Barclay. Cato is seeing the field amazingly well and teams will struggle to slow him down if the line can provide Cato the time he needs to carve up the defense. Simply put, Cato breaks every passing record at Marshall this season if he is provided the opportunity to throw downfield.
Eric Frohnapfel led the TE’s today followed by Joe Woodrum, Deon-Tay McManus and Ryan Yuracheck. Expect great things from Frohnapfel this season. He told me earlier this week that he spent the off-season working on his speed, strength and ability to run better routes. It seems to have certainly paid off as he worked from the stance and ran a quick slant for nice gain, caught a ball split out from the line on a crossing route and even worked out of the backfield as an H-back with Johnson. That combination of Frohnapfel and Johnson is scary. Imagine if Doc threw some cheese into that mix. Good luck stopping that one! I think Frohnapfel has made leaps and bound progress from his 2013 season, I expect McManus to be the red-zone TE simply because he has better speed. McManus is very “Gator-like” on the field.
Running backs today were Johnson as the 1, Remi Watson as the 2 and Stew Butler as the 3. Still not sure how Butler fell to the 3’s but Butler seemingly knows how to always stay in Doc’s doghouse. Watson broke off a nice run during the 11-on-11 that was either 6 or a 40+ yard gain. Good vision by Watson to let the play develop and then attack at the right moment. Brandon Byrd got some solid contact on a sweep as this kid has serious potential. He has already used his red-shirt but I would not be surprised to see this kid get some time out of the backfield early this season.
Holliday talked about the importance of players being ready to step up in today’s interview.
“Football is a tough game and when somebody goes down, somebody must step up,” said Holliday. “It’s a long season and everyone is important.”
Injury report for today, Lang and Manning remained on the sidelines during practice going through stretches and conditioning for the lower extremities. Corie Wilson was not in uniform today and was walking on crutches with a stabilizing knee brace on his right leg. Stefan Houston went through a full workout today and appeared to be returning to full speed as did Kent Turene and Keith Baxter. The offensive line did suffer a blow when tackle Clint Van Horn went down with an apparent right leg injury. He was wearing a protective boot on his right leg after practice.
Tomorrow the real fun begins as it will be the first full-pad contact practice of the fall. Although the lines have been at each other all week, the defensive unit is ready to make some contact rather than arm tackling and stepping aside to avoid contact. Needless to say, tomorrow’s report will contain a detailed report on the defense.