Peek Inside Practice: The Wide Receivers

Our seventh look at Marshall spring football practice focuses on the wide receiver corps. We spoke with assistant coach Dwayne Nunez, and got the lowdown on how the receivers are progressing during spring drills.

"We've had a good spring," Nunez said Tuesday morning after practice. "We've caught the ball better, and that was a big point of emphasis. Last year, we had more drops than we'd like to have. We've emphasized blocking more, and they've done better with that."

Some would say Nunez has the easiest job among the Marshall assistant coaches this spring, what with Darius Watts, Josh Davis, and Denero Marriott all returning in 2002. This unit (including the GMAC Bowl) grabbed 226 passes for 3,178 yards and 32 TDs in 2001.

MU wide receiver Darius Watts

Darius Watts (6-2, 183, junior) leads the list of returning starters. His 91 catches for 1,417 yards and 18 TDs in '01 speaks volumes for the junior's abilities. "Darius has had a good spring," Nunez said. "He's a very smart player, and that's something most people don't see. He understands defenses, he understands how to run routes. The little things."

Josh Davis (6-1, 195, sophomore) returns after setting an NCAA record with 79 catches, the most ever by a freshman. "He's going to crank it up," Nunez said. "He's real talented. He just has to make sure that motor is running full speed all the time."

Josh Davis

Denero Marriott (6-1, 178, senior) exploded on the scene in '01 after jumping over from the defensive side of the ball. His 15 catches for 234 yards in the GMAC Bowl rank high in all-time bowl performances for a WR. Nunez sees even better days ahead for Marriott due to his work ethic in spring drills. "He's working hard to get better," Nunez said of Marriott. "He's trying to do things better."

Denero Marriott

Curtis Jones (6-2, 205, senior) returns arguably as the leader among the backup receivers. Jones' abilities have shone through in the past two seasons, but injuries have bugged the talented receiver. "He's really had a good spring," Nunez said. "He's got talent. We're hoping he'll pick it up and make plays." Brad Bates (5-11, 170, sophomore) has "been a surprise" according to Nunez. Chris Martin (5-10, 189) has been fighting the injury bug during the spring, and has seen limited practice time as a result. However, Nunez said Martin's abilities are well-known and he's confident that Martin will contribute heavily come August. Robby Isaacs (6-2, 185, sophomore) has also been fighting the injury bug, but Nunez said he has "gotten better" despite the nagging injuries. Nate Manns (6-4, 213, sophomore) may be the biggest surprise in spring drills. "He's really caught the ball well, which has been the biggest surprise," said Nunez of Manns. "He's a strong kid. Out on the field, now, they bounce off him." Demetrius Doss (6-3, 215, senior), and Chris Ray (6-0, 180, senior) are also progressing nicely.

Assistant coach Dwayne Nunez with WR Darius Watts

Nunez summed up by saying that the underclassmen have received more reps in spring drills. What with Watts, Davis, and Marriott already known quantities and all, it's the underclassmen that Nunez is banking on. "We need to be able to play more guys than we did last year," Nunez said. "We've really been on them (backups) and given them a bunch of reps."

The interesting twist in this involves Marshall's improved tight ends situation. With transfer Jason Rader making waves in practice, the receivers group now has to compete with the tight ends for passes, something they have not had to do in the past. Multiple tight end sets will pose coverage problems for opposing defenses, and this will only increase the chances of the receivers making huge plays in 2002.

"The defense is going to have to cover everybody," Nunez summed up. "And that will give us more chances for one-on-one matchups outside. Now, we've got a tight end, so he's going to catch more balls. So, every chance you get, you better make it good."

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