Marshall football’s offense is much like a favorite recipe that contains a secret ingredient.
Start with a Heisman Trophy candidate in Rakeem Cato, mix in a talented group of receivers and stir in the secret ingredient wide receiver coach Mike Furrey said is a must—consistency.
As Cato enters his season senior, the Miami Central native has several passing records within his grasps.
However, his place in the history books rests solely on the fingertips of his eager receivers jockeying for playing time.
So what’s the key ingredient for playing time you may ask? Simply being productive within the elements that Furrey demands from his players.
“Guys can’t slow the game down,” Furrey said of the elements. “Depths become too short, depths become long, they run the wrong routes and don’t catch the football consistently. These are the elements that my guy’s must do consistently.”
For the Herd, consistency comes in a small package.
|Coach Furrey and Tommy Shuler|
Coming off back-to-back 100-catch seasons will be Cato’s favorite returning target and former high school teammate Tommy Shuler. Shuler backed up his 110-catch season in 2012 with a 106-catch season last year and now stands to do something no receiver has yet to do in college football—go back-to-back-to-back.
Shuler, who looks at Furrey as a mentor both on and off the field, said the former NFL receiver can see even the slightest mistake in something Shuler may think he does perfectly, which does nothing but make him a best player.
“Coach Furrey is my biggest critic,” Shuler said. “We can go in the film room and I’ll think I ran a route right and he can find a little thing that can make me better.”
In an offense that returns seven receivers from last year’s team and welcomes five fresh faces, that is the expectations for a group of receivers that graces this season’s squad.
“This may be the best group of receivers I’ve seen since being here at Marshall,” said head coach Doc Holliday.
But with some many great receivers volleying for a spot on the depth chart, it would appear the decision of who plays and who sits would be difficult. Coach Furrey said it’s not as difficult as one would think.
“When it all comes down to it, you need to have a reliable guy that can run great routes, get open and catch the football,” Furrey explained. “The guy who has all the elements, who is creating production by the time we get out of camp, that will be who is on the field come Miami.”
Furrey added its time to move past the potential aspect and start looking at production.
“We have 12 guys who have potential,” Furrey said. “I could care less about potential at this point. I want to see your production.”
Production is a must in a pass-first, high-tempo offense orchestrated by Cato. The biggest concern receiving wise for the Herd, finding help for Shuler who is sure to draw double-coverage nearly anytime he steps on the field.
“Going into prep for Miami, hopefully we will have a couple inside guys that can help Tommy out,” said Furrey. “Hopefully we have one or two guys who are just dominant outside receivers with guys who can come in and give them some balance and rest.”
That balance would be much welcomed. Of the 315 total completed passes last season, 156 went to Shuler and former tight end Gator Hoskins. Of the six other receivers returning from last season, collectively they caught 38 fewer passes that Shuler.
As the Herd looks for a true outside threat the could draw double coverage away from Shuler, it has three viable candidates in Davonte Allen, Deandre Reaves and Angelo Jean-Louis who have hopes of giving Cato a Randy Moss or Aaron Dobson type of target that would stretch out defenses downfield.
Allen caught only nine passes in 2013 but is looking for a way to move past the potential game-tying touchdown pass in triple-overtime last year at Virginia Tech. While Allen has shown significant progress during the spring and summer sessions, his game time consistency is still a giant question mark, something Furrey said is a hump Allen has to get over.
“He’s (Allen) showing things that he hasn’t shown before and he’s real comfortable,” Furrey said. “We just have to make sure that he can get over the hill and say ‘I’m the guy’. Then we need another one too.”
Allen said he strives to stay focused in hopes of being that outside threat Cato desperately needs.
“I’m just trying to stay focused and work on the little things,” said Allen.
Allen explained with every Cato pass attempt comes a reward—as long as he does his job first.
“It’s a great advantage of knowing if you do the right thing you will be rewarded for it,” Allen said of Cato’s passing. “Every time you look, it will be in the right position it needs to be.”
If Allen can be “that guy” as Coach Furrey said, then it becomes a race between Reaves and Jean-Louis for the other outside position. Reaves—who worked as an inside receiver up until Monday—moves to the outside in hopes of using his shifty and explosive speed to draw extra coverage to him, freeing up someone to get open.
“I’m going to try to use my quickness to my advantage and get around whoever that is and either get open or get somebody else open,” Reaves said “If I take two guys with me, that frees somebody else up.”
Reaves caught only six passes last season as he worked primarily as the Herd’s kick-off returner, said he does not mind the move to the outside if it’s what’s best for the team.
“If they need me to play center, I’ll play center,” Reaves chuckled. “If they need me to replace Cato, somehow, someway then that’s what I’ve got to do. Where ever they need me, I’ll play.”
But do not count out Jean-Louis who sat out last year after hurting his knee during the season kept him off the field. The redshirt freshman has played himself into the conversations of a potential starting position for the Miami game with his stellar play during camp. Jean-Louis has worked well with Cato during the scrimmage portions of practice and has held his own against the Herd’s starting secondary.
But can the rookie hold his own when the big lights go on is still an unknown as he has yet to catch a pass in a true game situation?
And what about the rest of the group who is hungry for time on the field?
With crafty veterans Craig Wilkins and Demetrius Evans fighting for their spot on the field, they have a stampede of competition on their heels. With Wilkins figuring into the outside receiver role in some fashion, the senior has been inconsistent more than not and has not drawn many throws from Cato when on the field. The senior is battling sophomore Josh Knight along with the above mentioned as being one of the Herd’s outside threats.
Evans has struggles of his own with a healthy group of competition pushing on the redshirt senior. With Reaves moving to the outside, that brings Evans inside as a back-up to Shuler. However, with the amount of targets the slot receiver draws from Cato, dropping a pass will keep a player off the field quicker than anything.
Evans could be in trouble.
Struggling with consistently catching the darts that Cato fires at his targets, Evans could find himself in more of a support role rather than that of a back-up. Especially with the amount of potential freshmen Hyleck Foster and Donquell ‘Gator’ Green bring to the table.
Foster has been shaky at times and while bigger than Green, has not shown the physical stature to work the underneath routes on the more physical linebackers. Foster’s upside, he is lightning fast. Foster has burnt several players in coverage for a big gain throughout camp but has been affected by ‘hearing footsteps’ from the defense.
Green has been proclaimed as the next Shuler by many of his teammates. Green has proven that he has the ability to work out of the slot, but the consistency has been shaky at times. Much like Foster, Green is possesses explosive speed but adds one element that Foster does not. Green can shift directions and never slow down. Green could work as a punt returner for the Herd this season which would provide him chances to play behind Shuler this season to gain in-game experience.
But no matter the position or year of a player, Coach Furrey still reverts to the importance of production.
“With what their all capable of doing, if they can produce, we have to find a place for them to play,” explain Furrey. “Our goal is to get five or six guys by the time we start Miami. Maybe the seven-eight-nine guy could be hard to figure out and then it will come down to special teams.”
With the recipe for playing time laid out to the group by Furrey on a daily basis, he said playing comes down to one thing.
“The guy who has all the elements and is creating production by the time we get out of camp, he will be the guy on the field,” Furrey said.
However, with this talented group battling for the same thing, playing time may not be as simple to decide as one may think—it may be even easier as production is waiting in the wings at every position.