Miles Shuler plans to capitalize

Former Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler is eligible this season. He's playing an active role this spring, and spoke to Steven Goldstein about his progress.

No. 5 swung from the slot, took a reverse handoff and ran down the right hash marks. Those attending Saturday's spring game erupted, as did the players watching the scrimmage from the sideline.

"Venric's back!" said some in the Ryan Field bleachers.

That No. 5, of course, was Miles Shuler, the wide receiver transfer from Rutgers who has worn the number while Venric Mark rehabs from last fall's ankle injury.

The progress of the former All-American remains Northwestern's most pressing concern. Still, Shuler's development has been an encouraging observation from this otherwise quiet spring (well, at least in terms of actual football #RealFootballFriday).

"I tried to provide energy out there, and enjoy myself each day," Shuler told after Saturday's practice. "I was inexperienced, trying to learn the offense at first. Now, I feel that I have a great grasp on it. I'm comfortable going full speed."

The Long Branch, N.J. native Shuler, originally a four-star recruit and the 16th ranked receiver in the class of 2011, chose instate Rutgers over schools including Florida, Notre Dame, Stanford and Oklahoma.

He failed to make a catch his freshman season, and tallied just five for 71 yards a year later. He sat out 2013 in search of a transfer, and despite a promise from coach Kyle Flood to see a bigger role in the offense, Shuler bolted for Northwestern.

Anticipation mounted immediately after news broke. Shuler was a state champion in the 100-meter dash, and excelled as a dual-threat quarterback for Long Branch. But Kyle Prater comparisons are equally fair. High school acclaim and raw talent don't always translate to the next level.

"It's a humbling experience, having to switch schools and start over in a whole new offense," Shuler admitted. "But I truly believe it's made me a better player."

As spring progressed, Shuler saw his reps building, resulting in the impressive wideout reverse in the final day of practice. After spending the remainder of the 2013 season working as a simulated scout-team quarterback for the defense to practice against, Shuler has played out wide, in the slot and at tailback. An offense in desperate need of depth has found a player that can be used in several formations.

"Whatever they throw at me, I'll take advantage of it. I came here to make the best of my opportunities, and I plan to capitalize on that no matter where or when I'm lined up," Shuler said.

Still, Shuler didn't come to Northwestern to be a decoy or gimmick. His goal is to be "a complete wide receiver, not a situational one," and he's yet to have a full opportunity to prove that in practice.

But a 5-7 team that just lost its most explosive playmaker can afford to take a chance. With two years of eligibility remaining, there's plenty of time for Shuler to justify the hype. And, as he continually emphasized Saturday, he can enjoy himself in the process.

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