As the Herd head’s into its final practice day before the first full-pad practice begins Friday, I thought I would give a ranking to the veterans as well as the newcomers. Although we were given our first look at some of the defensive players in pads yesterday, this ranking primarily for the skill players.
Veteran Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
1. Tommy Shuler: 5-7 188 Senior Miami, FL.- Coming off back-to-back 100-catch seasons, Shuler is poised to do what has never been done by a NCAA receiver, catch 100 passes in back-to-back-to-back seasons. Shuler in camp has looked spectacular and the defensive backs have just been trying to contain him and not give up a big gain. Defenses will use the famous Stewart Scott line when trying to lock down the kid from Miami Central, “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” Expect plenty of Rakeem Cato to Shuler calls this season as this will be the last hoorah for the tandem who have been playing together since they were kids. Another quality Shuler has shown thus far in camp, leadership. Shuler has spent endless time with the receivers in practice giving them pointers and advice of the best way to run the routes.
2. Davonte Allen: 6-2 200 RS-Junior Belle Glade, FL.- Allen is in a unique situation this season. This is finally his time to shine. With Devon “Moo Moo” Smith playing out his senior season last year, Cato needs a legitimate deep threat he can go to. While Allen had a great spring and has shown signs of being a consistent target for Cato to work to, there is a big difference of catching a pass in camp and catching it on Saturdays when the big lights are on. Allen can use his big body to out muscle smaller corners and his height gives him a 2-3 inch advantage over the typical secondary players. If Allen can be that consistent deep threat the Herd is desperately looking for, he could have a break-out season. However, if Allen’s lights don’t go on when its game time, Coach Holliday has plenty of young guns standing in the wings chomping at the bit for a chance to shine.
3. Deandre Reaves: 5-10 173 RS-Junior Sterling, VA.- Reaves returns this season looking to be more than by a kick return like most of his 2013 season. While being the primary kick returner last season, he averaged 25-yard per return including an 81-yarder. Reaves however, wasn’t much in the mix of the offensive game plan, catching only six passes for 42 yards in 14 games. This poses to be the special teams specialist break-out season. Reaves routes have been solid resulting in several deep hook-ups with Cato. With the Herd having such a deep receiver class this season, Reaves will keep himself on the field with consistent play and doing his job when called up.
4. Eric Frohnapfel: 6-6 229 Senior Stafford, VA.- I will call this 4a as I think Frohnapfel and Josh Knight are pretty even on the field. Froh has some huge shoes to fill after the departure of Gator Hoskins at TE. Frohnapfel must fill the void of one of Cato’s red-zone targets this season as Hoskins led the team with 15 TD’s last year and was almost money anytime the Herd entered the red-zone. Last year, Frohnapfel played in all 14 games but only had seven catches for 95 yards and two TD’s—one thrown by Cato and the other by his brother Blake who transferred in the off-season to UMASS. Needless to say, Frohnapfel must step up in a big way to allow Cato to maintain his red-zone attack. Thus far in camp, Frohnapfel has made several nice grabs from Cato including releasing on a blown defensive coverage and pulling in a wide-open touchdown grab. He has the soft hands like Hoskins but not nearly the speed. However, his 6-6 frame is a nightmare for defensive coordinators to answer. Frohnapfel will out-muscle most players in the secondary. The question is can he be faster than a linebacker forced to pick him up in coverage—like Hoskins was last season—which then turns the Herd’s TE position into an instant scoring. Frohnapfel is a smart guy and he understands the expectations, but with Devon Johnson’s move to running back, the time is now to step up and perform.
5. Josh Knight: 6-0 186 Sophomore Fort Pierce, FL.- Knight is my 4b but could be the biggest intangible of this returning group of receivers. Knight did not catch a pass last season but he has already shown signs in camp that he is here to fight for a spot on the field. Knight’s routes have been crisp and his cuts sharp allowing whatever quarterback is throwing the ball to rely on 84 being where he is supposed to be. He works through contact and is not easily pushed off his routes. He has also stepped up as a mentor to the incoming freshman, something the Coach Holliday complimented him on earlier this week. Holliday said it doesn’t take a senior to lead but rather a person willing to step up and accept responsibility. Knight seems to be that guy.
6. Justin Hunt: 6-2 193 Sophomore Memphis, TN.- Hunt, much like Knight, is another cog in this wheel of receivers the Herd has to offer this season. Last season he played in 13 games but only caught two passes, one of which was a touchdown. Hunt’s biggest issue has been with all the shining stars budding around him; so far, he was been in their shadows. This doesn’t mean he can’t change things around. Doc said earlier this week that this is the best group of receivers he’s seen since being at Marshall. The good side of that, more fresh and ample bodies for Cato to throw to late in the games under Marshall’s blistering paced offense. Expect to hear Hunt’s name this season, but to what capacity has still yet to be determined.
7. Demetrius Evans: 5-11 197 RS-Senior Belle Glade, FL.- Evans enters the 2014 season after a disappointing 2013 campaign where he caught 19 passes in 14 games, 5 of which he started. The biggest issue with Evans, being able to make a catch under heavy pressure. Evans has seen his time on the field reduced tremendously and much of it going to the player who’s from his own home town (D. Allen). Throughout camp, Evans has been much of the same player as last year. He’s had trouble getting separation and struggles playing through the physicality of the Herd’s secondary. That being said, Evans still has a role on this team but to what extent that is has yet to be determined.
8. Craig Wilkins: 6-0 180 Senior Haileah, FL.- Wilkins entered camp fresh off a solid 2013 season. Wilkins hauled in 32 catches in 13 games—which was fourth best on the team—including two grabs that went for scores. However, Wilkins has been overshadowed throughout camp and suddenly finds himself as the odd man out. His biggest struggle thus far; a bad case of the drops. Wilkins continues to work during the drills but if he doesn’t find a cure quick, he could fall past a couple of the freshmen who arguably have a shot at seeing playing time if they don’t take a redshirt.
Freshman and Newcomers
1. Donquell “Gator” Green: 5-8 160 Freshman Waynesboro, GA. – The newest “Gator” has arrived at Marshall but in a much smaller package. Green has been nothing less than spectacular thus far in practice. His speed is explosive and has juked a few defenders out of their cleats, turning a quick slant into a monster gain. He plays through contact and does not get pushed out of his routes easily. Green looks like a combination of Shuler and Moo Moo which is scary to picture. Green has also been working with the special teams returning punts and looks to be a natural. Green played as a quarterback at Burke County High School but has made the transition to a slot receiver extremely well. So well some have already said the future of life after Shuler is in good hands. But let’s see what the youngster can do when he has some of the top corners in CUSA lined up against him and Cato firing the ball his direction.
2. Hyleck Foster: 5-11 186 Freshman Gaffney, SC.- Foster is a mirror image of Green on the field. His hands are dynamic and some of the catches he’s made during practice has been nothing less than amazing. He shifts his body well, making the needed adjustments for help bail out a poorly thrown pass by the quarterback that looks destined for the turf. Foster’s only visible flaw that I’ve seen in practice, he is easily pushed off his routes by the more physical players—especially linebackers as he streaks over the middle. However, should a speed mismatch present itself to him at the line of scrimmage, a completed pass could be an easy 6.
3. Angelo Jean-Louis: 6-0 175 RS-Freshman Wellington, FL. - This kid has some of the seasoned vets sweating. Jean-Louis (Pronounced Jean-Lewis) has spent his practice in the afternoon sessions, aka with the ones and twos. He has not looked out of place. Jean-Louis could work himself into a back-up role as an outside threat. As Doc said it best earlier this week, competition is a great thing amongst players. Jean-Louis brings that element to practice as he could vault himself into the 2-deep rather quickly with a stellar performance once full-pad practices begin Friday.
4. Deon-Tay McManus: 6-2 227 RS-Freshman Baltimore, MD.- McManus could be working behind Frohnapfel this season in the TE position, but presents himself as more of a red-zone target much like Hoskins. He has a low center of gravity, soft hands and good feet. He gets in and out of his cuts crisply and has the speed to punish a defense that forces a linebacker to cover him in space.
5. Emanuel Beal: 6-1 200 Freshman Powder Springs, GA.- Beal is a member of an elite group of incoming freshman that stands a chance to fight for a spot on the field if the chips fall his way. He works the field well and has hauled in several nice passes from both Cato and Holcombe. Beal, much like several others in camp stands to take time away from some of the crafty veterans. He could be a red-shirt candidate due to the hefty numbers of receivers in this year’s class.
6. Rodney Allen: 5-10 154 RS-Freshman Dallas, TX.- Allen looks to have a season of watch and learn with the class of receivers he is in. Unless he impresses once the pads go on and game-time contact is introduced, Allen spends much of this season watching on the sideline.
I will update this list daily as full-contact practice begins tomorrow as well as provide a defensive players list that will be posted by tomorrow after getting another day to watch them in shell. Enjoy!