WR Alston impresses in scrimmage
HUNTINGTON - On a day in which coach Doc Holliday declared his Marshall team inconsistent in all phases, there was one constant.
Chris Alston, the first-semester slot receiver, was going to get the ball.
In a scenario nobody would have dreamed entering the spring season, Alston was among the most noticeable players in the Thundering Herd's 130-play scrimmage Saturday, catching 12 passes for 103 yards.
A 5-foot-11, 185-pound native of Lakeland, Fla., Alston certainly didn't expect to do double shifts on the first and second units. Not when he entered the program in January, not when spring drills commenced in March, and maybe not when he woke up Saturday morning.
But he knew his next move after the scrimmage. During all his work, he even overcame a "stinger."
"We didn't have a lot of choice," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "Tommy Shuler, he had a personal matter he had to take care of back in Miami, so he had to leave yesterday. He'll be back tomorrow.
"Jazz King is banged up and [Jermaine] Kelson's banged up, so we didn't have a lot of slots. [Alston] did a lot of good things; he has that knee brace right now, and it will come off in the fall. He was a dynamic player on film in high school; I probably haven't seen that speed out of him yet."
Oh yes, that brace. It's not small, and it's a big reminder why Alston was grayshirted - he tore his anterior cruciate ligament during his senior season at Lakeland (Fla.) High.
He's taking advantage of his overload of reps, though. Saturday, he broke off gains of 25 and 30 yards, both on simple slant patterns.
"He has improved a lot this spring," said receiver Andre Booker. "He improved big-time today. I was actually surprised. He still has a lack of focus on carrying the football, but that's going to come. But he surprised me today; he's doing a good job."
Alston and Booker accounted for a good chunk of the 45 completions from Rakeem Cato and Blake Frohnapfel. Cato was 22-of-31 for 255 yards and one touchdown, a 33-yarder to Aaron Dobson in the two-minute drill.
"They were playing man-to-man; they kind of rolled off," Cato said. "They were in zone at first, [but] they rolled off to a 'man.' They left [Dobson in single coverage], and I was surprised, and we took a shot and we connected."
Frohnapfel, still limited in his throwing range after shoulder surgery, was 23-of-31 for 156 yards. The passing game accounted for 411 of the 510 total yards gained in 111 scrimmage plays.
With three backs injured and Essray Taliaferro going out after his first and only carry, Martin Ward and walk-on Kevin Rodriguez carried the rushing load. Rodriguez, generally working on the second string, gained 85 yards on 23 carries with a 1-yard touchdown. Ward scored on two short runs.
Rodriguez had the day's longest play, a 44-yard burst up the middle.
"I like the Rodriguez guy. He's from New Jersey, a walk-on kid that I like," Holliday said. "He's a tough guy that goes in there and plays hard. We're just kind of doing this by committee, for now."
The 99 yards rushing includes deducted yardage from four sacks. Devin Arrington, Jermaine Holmes, Deon Meadows and Malcolm Strong all tagged a passer once.
Armonze Daniel, the linebacker fighting to stay on the second unit, had the big numbers. He recorded 13 tackles, two for loss, and had the day's only interception. Meadows forced the other turnover, recovering an Alston fumble.
Holliday would have wanted the defense to force a few more turnovers, though that would have had him jumping on his offense for committing them. Such is the dilemma of a head coach.
He had much to praise and criticize on both sides.
"I think they took turns a little bit today," Holliday said. "Defensively, at times we did some good things, and offensively, too. But you know what? It's never as good or as bad as you think until you see the tape. So we'll take a peek at the tape and see what we've got, and try to get better from there."
BRIEFLY: There were three special-teams periods, covering punts, field goals and kickoffs. On field goals, Justin Haig and Trent Martin were both 2-for-3 from the 40-yard area. ... The Herd defense scored a safety when the offense was going from its 1-yard line, as Ward was stopped short of the goal line. ...
Safety D.J. Hunter (broken finger) returned and played with his hand in a "club" bandage. Many players who were sporting blue "no contact" jerseys, such as cornerbacks Monterius Lovett and Keith Baxter, participated in full contact anyway. Lovett was the victim of Dobson's touchdown, trying to cover the Dunbar native one-on-one. ...
Defensive tackle James Rouse left with an injury. Others sitting out included running back Remi Watson, who still couldn't raise his left arm very far. Tight end C.J. Crawford remained on crutches. ...
Safety Donald Brown's comeback is over. The team's fourth-leading tackler, who was dismissed in 2011 after a domestic assault charge, was attempting a comeback and participated in spring drills until Saturday.
"Safety Donald Brown did not meet the expectations and standards of Marshall Football. Therefore, he will not return to the program," Holliday said in a statement.