MUFB_Devon Johnson
Jeremy Blake Photography

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.— He’s been tight end, H-back, linebacker and now he’s The Herd’s starting tailback. But you won’t find his name in any of the preview magazines or preseason scouting reports. That’s because Devon Johnson surprised everyone when he lined up in the backfield on the first day of preseason camp. However, no one was surprised when he was listed at Marshall’s starting running back when the initial two-deep was released on Tuesday.

Johnson leaped-frogged veteran running backs Steward Butler and Remi Watson on the depth chart by earning the trust of the coaching staff his Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback.

“I know Cato likes him because if he gets an A- or B-gap blitzer, he has a shot of sticking it up in there and that guy not getting him. Cato likes him back there and so do I,” said Doc Holliday.

Holliday insisted early in camp he would find a running back he trusted, who could not only run with the ball in his hands but provide the necessary protection for quarterback Rakeem Cato. That is what set Johnson apart from the others during camp.

“My surprise was the protection stuff,” offensive coordinator Bill Legg said. “The thing I was most pleased with was how quickly he picked up on our protection schemes, because they’re relatively entailed. He’s done an excellent job there.”

Legg and Holliday were not looking for a back who excelled in just handling the ball. The running back’s ability to pick up blitzes and protect Cato’s blindside is equally, if not more important, than his yards per carry. Essray Taliferro rocketed up the depth chart a season ago largely because of his blocking ability in the backfield. Of course, Taliferro was also a dangerous runner as rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2013.

Johnson has also displayed an attribute Doc Holliday values very highly, that is the willingness to play wherever the team needs him. He’s spent time on both sides ball, on the line scrimmage, split out and now in the backfield.

“He’d never played running back at the college level. He was playing tight end and working all the little idiosyncrasies that go along with playing tight end but don’t forget that kid played running back all the way through,” said Legg. “He was a running back and linebacker in high school.”

The 243-pounder is a bruiser in the backfield. There are some backs who use finesse to avoid contact, Johnson looks for it. He may not run away from defensive backs but he can certainly run over them.

“He’s brought a physicality to that position that we haven’t seen for three or four years,” Holliday said.

Herd fans have had a taste of Johnson’s abilities. He punched in a pair of touchdowns running out of the “Big Cheese” goal line package last year.

“I wasn’t totally shocked in the run game and I wasn’t shocked with his eye discipline and I wasn’t totally shocked in how he ran the ball, because I’ve seen him run the ball when we threw it to him,” Legg said.

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Comments

  • Sabrina Spencer

    That is my nephew, and he is doing it up!! I am very proud of him, and i know that his father would be also. Devon has played hard all his life, from the time he carried the ball. Way to go babyboy!!!!!

  • Paul Gray

    I have had the pleasure of coaching Johnson in football and baseball when he was just a kid. Through the years he has grown into an amazing athlete and I assure everyone that he is ready for this challenge. Come saturday I'm sure everyone will see his potential and be very pleased with the coaches decision. Go #47 and Go Herd!!

  • Herd98

    Our most prized player is our QB Rakeem Cato I think we can all agree on that. Johnson provides the best protection as the best blocker of the bunch. Thus the least chance our QB gets sacked. We play a super weak schedule, with weak teams that cant compete talent wise so they will be coming after Cato to attempt to knock him out of every single game. We need to have his protection as our #1 priority, thus we add Johnson who has shown how physical he is and he picks up blitzes better than the others. I think its a very smart move.

  • Greg

    I think everyone is assuming that the Herd will never have more than one back in the backfield. I can see Watson or Butler back there with Johnson on occasion.

  • eerdiot patrol

    I see this as step 1 of Doc being conservative in his gameplanning. And step 1 to not going undefeated. Butler is so much better as a RB and gives the offense a home run threat. With Johnson, its as easy as brackeing receivers. Shame on Holliday. Already being a conservative loser before the first game. He will never get the max potential out of any team he coaches

    • Slingblade

      I disagree. This adds a dynamic to the backfield they needed, they can rotate guys in depending on the situation. Also, Johnson is fast, he can break off big runs at any time, just not as shifty as the smaller guys, but you dont have to be when you are 240+ running north and south. The addition of Johnson to the backfield will help with protecting Cato to give the WR's more time to stretch the field so they can actually open up the offense even more...if the outside WR's have time to get downfield and Cato has time to throw it, then the opposing Defenses will be forced to have to make a decisions to cover the deep ball, Tommy underneath all while not loading up on the run, because if they totally try to prevent the pass then Johnson will pound it up the middle ripping off 5-6 yard carrys at a time, then when they load up to stop the run, the play action pass will be wide open...another words...opposing Defensive coordinators are going to have nightmares before they play the Herd this year!

    • James

      Butler will get his carries as will Watson. Let's see some results first, then decide. DB's and some LB's will not look forward trying to tackle "Rockhead".

      • Slingblade

        DBs and most linebackers in this league will most definitely get tired of getting in front of rockhead trying to tackle him head up with him having a head start and going down hill. That is when they start to try to arm tackle him and he will gain the valuable yards after contact. We will see how it goes, they will all get their shot. RBs have to block though. Just look at the NFL, if you can't block, you won't get much consideration.

  • Brett

    I really look forward to watching Johnson play. Just a tough guy who can give it to anybody.