Chuck Landon: Expect Johnson to shine for Herd
Remember Sean Doctor?
Most of Marshall's veteran football fans certainly do.
Nobody who watched the 6-foot-2, 237-pound, fullback-sized tight end catch 96 passes for 1,372 yards in 1987 could forget Doctor.
Well, guess what?
A crowd of about 500 fans witnessed the second-coming of Doctor during Marshall's preseason scrimmage Saturday at Edwards Stadium.
His name is Devon Johnson.
And he couldn't be more like Doctor if his nickname were "The Intern."
Johnson stands an un-tight endish 6-1, weighs a tackle-busting 240 pounds and wreaks havoc nearly every time he touches the ball.
Just ask D.J. Hunter.
Marshall's star strong safety is the best player on the Herd's defensive unit and he isn't accustomed to being embarrassed on a football field.
But Hunter got humbled by Johnson Saturday night.
And then some.
When Johnson caught a swing pass on the left hash early in the scrimmage, Hunter raced up to make the stop. But an odd thing happened on the way to his tackle. Johnson caught Hunter with a perfect, old-school stiff arm and literally stiff-armed the strong safety to the turf.
Sure, it was for only a 12-yard gain. But it was unequivocally the biggest, most memorable play of the scrimmage.
"I didn't realize it was Hunter he did that to," said Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg with raised eyebrows.
That's what made Johnson's play so significant.
"He's a freak of nature," said quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, who threw the swing pass to Johnson. "It's fun making a little, short throw to him and, then, watching him run over people."
A quarterback by the name of Tony Petersen used to utter similar comments about Doctor.
Ah, isn't it refreshing when new life is breathed into old memories by athletes such as Johnson?
"Sean Doctor," mused Legg with a big grin. "That's a great comparison."
One knuckle-bump later, Legg explained the impact he expects Johnson to make.
"Adding him to our offense is huge," said the offensive coordinator. "Now, we're even more versatile."
Imagine the implications. The Herd can have Johnson line up at tight end or in the slot or at fullback. He played all three positions during the scrimmage, catching five passes for 93 yards and rushing twice for two yards.
And that's not counting a 29-yard touchdown reception that was negated by a penalty.
"Devon and Gator Hoskins give us a good combination," said Legg. "We had to train Devon to be a slot receiver because he knew had to be a fullback. But we had to train Gator to be a fullback because he knew had to be a slot receiver."
Hoskins and Johnson combined for 11 catches and 142 yards in the scrimmage. And, again, don't forget Johnson's memorable stiff-arming of Hunter.
"You don't want to hit him high," said Legg with a knowing smile, "but, then, if you try to hit him low. ..."
Oh, the embarrassment.
I have a feeling some unlucky tight end -- are you listening, Gator Hoskins? -- is going to feel the wrath of Hunter during practice Monday afternoon.
But if it's any solace, Hunter won't be the last defender who will get stiff-armed to the turf by Johnson.
Now, is Johnson going to catch 96 passes? No. But he certainly fills the Rx as the next Sean Doctor.
Just call him "The Intern."
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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