Marshall's Shuler itching to get back in the mix
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Tommy Shuler said that back in his hometown of Miami, nobody ever took a day off. Not that he was blaming Marshall coaches and trainers for allowing another week to let his foot heal.
But as the 5-foot-7, 190-pound junior has performed in non-contact drills, he's getting the itch to rejoin all those pass-catchers, including the resurgent Davonte Allen and Devon "Moo Moo" Smith.
Thundering Herd Coaches are going to have fun - in a good way - getting all those players the ball. Shuler is loving the experimentation, too - and he's encouraged by his fellow 5-7 receiver, Smith.
"It's going to be sweet. I feel like he's going to take the top off the defense," Shuler said after practice Monday. "Today, we moved [Smith] to the outside so me and him could be on the field together. It's sweet."
By all accounts, Shuler would take the field if the Thundering Herd's opener against Miami (Ohio) were today. But that game is still a week and a half away.
No old-school Miami tough guy for Shuler this week.
"My foot is back strong," he said. "They just don't want me to out there and do something crazy. Our defense is hungry, and somebody could go out there and twist my foot or just mess it up. So they gave me one more week, I guess, to get it back strong."
The running back position is hardly hurting, though Kevin Grooms did get dinged up last week and did not scrimmage Saturday. Herd fans know Steward Butler, Remi Watson and Essray Taliaferro can pick up the slack.
But Taliaferro is the one who has been doing the heavy lifting, running with the first unit most of this month.
"I just never doubt myself," said the 5-9, 183-pound senior. "I just know when the opportunity is presented I can perform. It wasn't unexpected by me - when [position] Coach [Thomas] Brown came, he said, 'Clean slate. Last season, two years ago doesn't mean anything. Talk to the guys who perform in the springtime and the fall, you talk to the guys who will play.' "
The Washington native got the call in a big way last November in the season finale at East Carolina, when he carried for 130 yards on 27 carries, caught three passes for 50 yards and returned three kickoffs for 41 yards.
He and the Herd suffered a bitter ending, as he fumbled in the second overtime. His offensive mates picked him up, telling him the game should have never gone that far (the defense yielded 52 points in regulation in the 65-59 loss).
The most positive effects were a major shot of confidence and a priceless memory in finding out he would shoulder the running game. The rest of the runners were either out or limited by injury.
"It was mind-blowing," Taliaferro said. "I was waiting for the opportunity the whole time, because I know I could do it."
As for the pecking order among the running backs for the season opener, Marshall coach Doc Holliday isn't worried about it: "I'm not too concerned there who's one, two or three, they're all going to play. Just like a year ago, when you throw a fresh back in there every other series or whatever, we'll be able to rotate them, that's a good thing."
After practice, Holliday himself peeled the red stripe - signifying "rookie" status - off the helmets of linebacker Neville Hewitt and center Michael Selby. Hewitt is a 6-2, 220-pound junior-college transfer who has impressed right off the bat, while Selby's a 6-2, 275-pound true freshman who has stepped in on the second string for the injured Cam Dees.
The decision to remove a newcomer's red stripe is generally made or heavily influenced by his teammates' lobbying.
"We went to Coach Holliday as an O-line, and we told him, 'We think he deserves to take his stripe off,' " first-string center Chris Jasperse said of Selby. "He's running with the 'twos' and he's putting a lot of time and effort into it and learning all the calls. He's made it a priority, and you can tell by the way he's playing."
As for Hewitt, Holliday said, "He came in here in May. As I told the team, he got in here and never said a word - kept his mouth shut and went to work every day. From day one on the practice field, you noticed him."
Linebacker Billy Mitchell remains out after the concussion he suffered in the Herd's first scrimmage, Aug. 10. It's tough to tell when or if he'll be back - remember, he missed the first half of the 2012 season with a concussion.
Another linebacker, Stefan Houston, remains injured from Saturday's scrimmage.
"He's the same old deal," Holliday said. "Anytime you [injure] an ankle, you think it's a couple of weeks, at least, but who knows? He'll be all right."
Monday's temperature sneaked into the low 80s, which felt warm compared to the recent cooler weather. Today's predicted high is 88, which pleases Holliday.
You can pencil in some variation of Holliday's quote for every college football coach: "I think it's going to get hot all week, which is good for us. I think we need some heat."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.