Herd receiver catching up
HUNTINGTON -- Until this week, it almost appeared as though Marshall University wide receiver Davonte Allen had been taking reps as a quarterback.
Like the quarterbacks, Allen spent all of spring football practice and the first two weeks of preseason practice in a red (no contact) jersey while rehabbing from a foot injury.
Now, Allen is back in a green uniform, making plays in the Thundering Herd passing game and working his way back into game shape for the Aug. 31 season opener against Miami (Ohio) in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
"He's not played ball in a while," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "He missed all of spring and the first week or so of camp, but he's a tremendous athlete that has tremendous skills and it won't take him long to get back in the groove."
For Allen, a 6-foot-2, 203-pound sophomore from Belle Glade, Fla., it was a lot of weight off his shoulders to get back onto the field.
"It's almost been a year," Allen said. "It feels great being back out there with the team. I saw them working hard this summer and I wanted to be out there with them, but I had to do some stuff to get better."
In his return to practice at the end of last week, Allen went full speed and made a diving catch of a pass from quarterback Rakeem Cato.
His catch brought the whole offensive unit into the end zone to celebrate and put a stamp on Allen's return to the outside receiver position.
"I wasn't really concentrating on anything except catching the ball," he said. "I was just driving, trying to see the ball and make a play."
That might seem like an innocent enough statement, but in context, it's huge for Marshall's offense.
When skill players have issues with their feet or knees, the mental side of the injury is just as important as the physical side.
Yes, players have to rehab to get back in shape physically, but they also have to rehab mentally -- meaning they have to trust that the physical rehab worked and they will be able to do the things they previously did.
For Allen, that means digging in to hit stride or cutting on a route, which is all related to proper footwork.
And there is no going 50 percent on a route. A receiver has to be able to go full speed or they are ineffective. That's why Allen and wide receivers coach Mike Furrey spent hours together after the Herd's first practices of camp.
It was all about not thinking of the injury and doing what he's done for years -- play fast and make plays.
"Coach Furrey and I were working on the little stuff -- things I couldn't work on with the team," Allen said. "Doing that after practice helped me a lot as far as conditioning and the little things it takes to get open."
Allen said the ability to go full speed is what makes Marshall's offense so tough to defend -- especially now with depth at each position.
"Every time we sub out, it's not like we're missing a beat," Allen said. "You just go out and go as hard as you can for a couple of plays and have another guy come get you. Then, you get him when he's feeling it. We all work together."
Allen's presence is going to be especially important in the 2013 season.
Marshall only lost a total of six seniors from last season, but three were at wide receiver, including both starting outside receivers -- Aaron Dobson, who is now with the New England Patriots, and Antavious Wilson. Both left Marshall in the top 10 of nearly every statistical category for receivers.
"We saw how those guys helped us out last year and we took advantage of it," Allen said. "This year, we knew we would have to step into a bigger role and they really helped get us ready for that."
Allen finished the 2012 season with 12 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns.