For the first time in fall camp, Marshall football spent much of its practice Saturday afternoon under game-like settings working in a scrimmage format. Rather than working with coaches in individual team workouts, players lined up in an 11-on-11 full-tackle practice.
With several eager fans sitting in the stands at Joan C. Edwards taking in the practice session, they were quickly rewarded with a hook-up from Heisman Trophy Candidate Rakeem Cato to Tommy Shuler for a nice gain on first down. This tandem continues to look crazy good and no one has yet to find a way to shut the Biletnikoff Award watch list member down.
"I think several of the younger guys made some plays today," head coach Doc Holliday said. "Their heads were still spinning from everything this week but their athleticism showed up and they were able to make some plays."
Just Keep Running
Today's first team backs were Devon "Rockhead" Johnson and Remi Watson. Johnson returned to practice after missing yesterday due to a personal issue and looked solid working beside of Cato. Cato and Johnson only had one miscue on a hand-off but Cato was able to keep the ball off the turf and scurry forward to get back to the line of scrimmage. Rockhead did pick up 7 yards on a counter play but his biggest play of the day did not involve him carrying the ball. With Corey Tindal showing a corner blitz, Cato checked the play putting Johnson in position. Johnson picked up Tindal perfectly and provided Cato the extra time he needed to connect with TE Eric Frohnapfel on a post-route that picked up 20+ yards. With many questions of why Johnson is working as the first-team tailback, that play answered it in a big way. With a guy like Cato, all he needs is time to get it down field and Johnson will consistently do that.
After a forgettable 2013 season that saw Watson tally only 30 carries for 120 yards, he has shown in practice that this could be the year he makes a turn for the better. Unlike last season when Watson shot the gap and then began dancing around, today--much like everyday this week--once he hits the hole, he turns it north and south. Watson had several nice gains today and could provide the Herd backfield with a nice one-two punch with Johnson that will keep defenses scratching their heads. It appears that a statement from his running back coach Chris Barclay may have hit home.
"I don't know if you know this or not Remi," Barclay said of his advice to Watson. "But the end zones are north and south. The quicker you can get north and south, the faster you can get in the end zone. If you are going to run 20 yards, get credit for a 20 yard gain."
Tony Pittman took the third team carries today as Stew Butler continued to appear to slide deeper in the doghouse. However, Doc did make a statement today that several of the young players saw extended action today in hopes of making a decision of who will make the two-deep and who will head to the scout team. Doc plans on having this decided by early in the week and the team he plans on putting on the field against Miami-OH taking first-team reps by Wednesday. Pittman did a decent job on limited carries today with his biggest gain coming on a sweep. Coach Barclay said Pittman is a solid player but he is still trying to adjust to the speed of the game.
Brandon Byrd was present at practice today after suffering a nasty hit from linebacker Cortz Carter during practice yesterday. Byrd was in shorts and shirt today and visibly appeared to be sore after the collision the sent his helmet flying yesterday. Coach Holliday expects Byrd to return possibly by next week but gave no definite time table other than the freshman was going to be fine.
Restricted Air Space
Doc said earlier this week that this is the best group of receivers he's ever seen at Marshall. With that being said, the decision of who to keep and who redshirt. Of the 12 receivers on this year's roster, at least nine have shown ways they could contribute to the program now. This does not include the four tight ends of which two should regularly see the field. Angelo Jean-Louis made another stellar catch today on a ball thrown by Cato that led the redshirt freshman to the endzone for a touchdown. I fully expect Jean-Louis to battle for time on the field this season.
Davonte Allen did not do anything spectacular today but did have one opportunity to make a mind-blowing catch on a tightly-threaded pass from Cato into smothering coverage by Swagg D. Allen had his hands on the ball but failed to pull it in. Allen has looked much improved this fall and could be the outside threat the Herd has been looking for.
Josh Knight continued his quiet march up the chart today showing he is a solid outside receiver that can take advantage of smaller corners. Knight torched the defense twice today on jet-routes up the sideline for touchdowns. While only a sophomore, Knight is playing well above his years thus far in camp.
Justin Hunt's struggles continued today as his severe case of the drops refuses to go away. Cato gave Hunt a chance to shine as he delivered a pinpoint pass to the sophomore that he simply dropped. Hunt's stock is sinking quickly and this is not the class to be doing it in.
Hyleck Foster and Gator Green continued to show they deserve to be in the discussion for playing time this season. However, in the last two days, both have shown some rookie mistakes. Foster works the flat well and if he gets a free release from the line, he is gone. Foster hauled in some nice catches today and quickly cut up-field for a positive gain. While shining at times, the true freshman dropped back-to-back passes that hit him in the hands after he heard footsteps from the defense close behind. Foster's best catch came on a great pass from Cole Garvin on a flag route. The completion was easily the best throw Garvin has made thus far in camp.
Green had his share of goods and bads today as well. Green put a punt on the turf but was able to cleanly scoop it up to make a return. He was awarded with 20 push-ups for the muff. He did utilize his speed by burning the defensive coverage on a route straight down the seam. Green also turned a catch that appeared to be a short gain into a big gain after spinning out of a tackle and using his shifty-speed to elude two would-be tacklers.
Emanuel Beal pulled in a grab from Gunnar Holcombe after burning Jacob Parker. Beal has made positive strides throughout the week and definitely has the frame that can match up with linebackers. Beal is another true freshman that is making a case for playing time on Saturdays.
Don't End It Here
As Eric Frohnapfel led the ones today, the true race is who will be on the field behind him and in what capacity. Deon-Tay McManus split time with Joe Woodrum today with the twos as McManus continued to shine. McManus works the flat extremely well and has good enough speed to run the underneath routes. I can still see McManus being the guy who becomes the Herd's new red-zone Gator as his speed will cause problems for linebackers that are forced to pick him up in coverage. Woodrum hauled in some passes as well today but he still lacks the speed and route-running skills that Frohnapfel and McManus possess.
Yurachek had a better day today as the true freshman has struggled to say the least through much of camp. His hands have failed him mightily this week but he did seem to settle in today during the scrimmage session with several nice catches that led him into contact, including a big pop from Michael Johnson. I fully expect Yurachek to redshirt this season but a year on the scout team will do this kid good. He showed today that he possesses the hands to be a reliable tight end that regularly operates in the Herd's pass-happy offense.
Big Hit of the Day
Rodney Allen can stake claim to this but unfortunately it was on his own teammate. As Tommy Shuler readied to field a punt, Allen moved across the field in an attempt to provide blocking for the senior. He failed miserably as he decked Shuler as the contact dropped Allen squarely on top of the returner. Allen did receive a pat on the back for the play, however it was from the punt coverage team. Shuler was less than pleased after the play.
Back It on Up
As the race for the back-up continues, there continues to be definite separation due to consistent performance of the field by either Gunnar Holcombe or Cole Garvin. Holcombe appears to be the sure back-up in the event of a catastrophic happening that Cato is forced from the field. Neither quarterback has found a consistent rhythm that allows any separation. While Holcombe did have a couple of nice completions in the scrimmage today, his accuracy is a coin flip.
Garvin on the other hand appeared to be settling in during the scrimmage only to throw three interceptions--two that were on back-to-back passes--one that gave Raheem Waiters his second "Pick 6" of the week. Freshman Kendall Gant was responsible for the other two take-aways including one that he elevated and appeared to take the ball out of the hands of corner Antavis Rowe who was also in pursuit. DJ Hunter had good things to say about Gant in an interview earlier this week and it appears his expectations of Gant were right on.
Put Some Leg Into It
With Amereto Curraj missing from the field again today, redshirt freshman Nick Smith split the place-kicking duties with Justin Haig. The kicking tandem was 11-of-12 on field goal attempts with the lone miss coming on a 41-yard attempt by Haig. Both kickers were dialed in as many of the attempts split the uprights. The longest attempt for both came from 49 yards as Haig sneaked his over the crossbar while Smith's attempt would have been easily good from 55 as the ball landed on the R in Thundering Herd on the hill behind the south endzone. It was the second kick from Smith that had 50+ yards of distance. Smith also took a couple swings on kickoffs with both kicks sailing 3 yards into the endzone. Smith could definitely be pushing for time on the field this season if he can remain consistent in practice.
Tyler Williams did it again with the boot as the Ray Guy award watch list punter sent his first kick 53 yards with a hang time of nearly five seconds. However, his best kick of the day--a rugby style punt--traveled 57 yards that took the returner backwards to the 11-yard line and forced him to step out at the 10. If this offense can move the ball as efficient as expected, I do not expect Williams will be punting all that often. However, if he can duplicate practice punts during a game, he flips the field every kick with is a huge ace in the hole for the defense.
Clint Van Horn is still out with a boot on his right foot. He continues to walk on crutches but has dressed out in pads and helmet each day while he stands on the sidelines and coaches up the younger players.
Tiquan Lang was still out of contact drills but appears to becoming more mobile everyday. Donaldven Manning continues to work with the trainers on the sidelines during practice. James Rouse, Kent Turene, Neville Hewitt and Evan McKelvey did not work on the field during the scrimmage. When asked why Rouse did not participate in the scrimmage today, Coach Holliday simply answered "because I didn't want him out there."
Tomorrow from 4-6 p.m. will be the annual media/fan day at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Players will take their group photographs before speaking with members of the media. Once all players have completed the photo, a team picture will be taken at which time fans may enter the field to meet and greet their favorite Herd players. Players will also be available to sign autographs after they complete their media obligations. Fans are asked to enter the west side of the stadium and remain in their seats until after the team photo is complete.
Also tomorrow marks the date that something big will be unveiled to the fans. Several thoughts and ideas have been mentioned but only time will tell.
Enjoy the show folks! Practice resumes Monday at 9:45 a.m.