HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—Coming into the 2013 season junior wide receiver Tommy Shuler knew defenses would be looking for him in the Marshall offense. Shuler was Rakeem Cato’s favorite target last season hauling in 110 catches. Marshall came into the season expecting defenses to use bracket coverage on Shuler attempting to eliminate him from the offense.
So far defenses haven’t been able to prevent Shuler from making catches and moving the chains and nobody with the Thundering Herd is surprised.
Shuler is once again Cato’s favorite target, whether it is a designed play or when the pocket starts to break down Cato has found his boyhood friend more often than not. Cato has hit 23 times through three games for an average of 10.7 yards per catch.
“I never worry about Tommy. I know he’s a great route runner, great with his hands and great with whatever he’s doing,” assured Cato. “When the matchup is there we’re going to take it.”
Of course, Cato and Shuler have a familiarity that the other receivers don’t have simply because the pair grew up together in Florida and have been throwing passes to each since they were kids. It seems one always knows where the other is on the field at all times.
Offensive coordinator Bill Legg has also taken some steps to ensure that defenses are not allowed to remove The Herd’s leading receiver from the game. Legg is running out plays and formations that get Shuler matched up in one-on-one coverage.
“He’s good at finding openings and he’s just got the ‘it’ factor. With us being able to run the football, it’s hard to load the box and walk guys out to bracket him,” explained coach Doc Holliday.
The “it” factor is that one attribute coaches would like to able to teach but players either have it or they don’t. Shuler has a nose for the football had an uncanny knack for finding holes in the defense and giving his quarterback a chance to get him the ball. That’s why he’s Marshall’s leading receiver.
“Whenever the opportunity comes we just take advantage of it. Whether they’re playing one-on-one, or zoning him we take advantage,” said Cato. “When they bracket him we move away and he other guys have to make plays.”
Shuler will be key again this week against a stingy Virginia Tech defense that forced problems for Alabama’s defense. The Hokies’ pressure defense wont’ give Cato much time in the pocket to operate forcing mostly three and five step drops.
That means if Tommy Shuler has a big day, Marshall will likely have a big day as well.