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Doc Holliday seeks wide receivers in spring for Herd

March 22, 2019
Freshman wide receiver Willie Johnson (1) pulls in a pass during Marshall's first spring practice on Sunday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Tyre Brady was one of those generational-type football talents in the Marshall University receiving corps over the last two seasons.

As it turns out, the only thing harder than defending Brady is replacing him, which is the onus placed on Marshall’s coaching staff this spring. Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that, when asked Marshall’s biggest needs in the spring, head coach Doc Holliday didn’t hesitate on an answer.

“We’ve got to find some receivers that can play,” Holliday said.

On Thursday, Marshall took part in what is technically its first day in pads as it went indoors in the Chris Cline Athletic Complex. However, it will be the Herd’s only day in pads for nearly two weeks because of spring break splitting up the spring sessions.

Thursday’s practice was the last practice for 12 days as Marshall students go on spring break starting Friday and don’t return to school until April 1.

Marshall will pick up its spring schedule April 2 with its final day of three spring practices in just shorts before returning to pads April 4 and continuing throughout with a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule until the spring scrimmage wraps up practice April 27.

While Thursday was the lone day in pads, it gave Holliday a chance to see how some of the young receivers have transitioned their abilities and gains in the offseason.

The first two days featured guys flying around and showcasing their athleticism, but the game changes once the pads go on.

“I think there are some young players that are starting to develop,” Holliday said. “I like what I’ve seen to this point with some of those young receivers making plays. There’s another year under their belt in the system and the quarterbacks have a better understanding of it.”

Finding a top target to replace Brady will not be easy after the University of Miami transfer caught 133 passes for 1,944 yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons with the Thundering Herd. Brady was a receiver that typically attracted two defenders and could also take the top off a defense, which opened up the field for other targets in the passing game.

Obi Obialo and Willie Johnson are the most experienced returning receivers, and Obialo has shown flashes of both the strength, speed and play making ability to move into Brady’s role after catching 42 passes for 505 yards last season.

However, there are some other young talents Holliday is interested in seeing as the spring moves forward.

Naquan Renalds is a 6-foot-2, 192-pound redshirt sophomore from Winter Garden, Florida, that Holliday and the staff have been impressed with in the last year.

Renalds first busted onto the scene last fall when he shined during the first few weeks of preseason camp, but Brady’s presence allowed Renalds to not rush into being called on to take the field. He saw action in four games last season, but Holliday did not force the issue because if Renalds continues to make academic progress as expected, he could get a year of eligibility back after coming to Marshall as an academic non-qualifier in the Class of 2017.

“You know, Renalds had a good camp last year,” Holliday said. “It’s just hard to take Brady off the field. It’s his turn now and kids react different ways when it becomes their turn.”

Another receiver that had a strong end to 2018 and looks to carry it into the spring is Artie Henry, who caught 17 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

Others who have been on campus that Holliday wants to see this spring include Talik Keaton and Ty Terrell, but he also spoke on young receiver Broc Thompson, who arrived in January to enroll early after signing with the Class of 2019.

In Tuesday’s shorts practice, Thompson showed his shiftiness when he caught a swing on the outside and made a juke move back inside that left a defensive back in his wake and the rest of the defense on the sideline ‘oohing’ in reaction to the move.

Thompson is a 6-foot-2, 176-pound true freshman target that came to Marshall from Fork Union Military Academy. The Indianapolis native has the ability, but needs to get in the weight room to add bulk to his frame — something Holliday said was a big benefit of his early arrival.

“Broc was able to come in early in January, and it’s just such a great advantage for those kids to come in and, from the physical standpoint, get those days under their belt in the offseason and plus now, spring ball,” Holliday said. “He’ll be ahead of the rest of those young guys when they get here in the fall.”

The benefit for all the receivers is that they will catch passes from several quarterbacks this spring, including sophomore Isaiah Green and senior Alex Thomson who have starting experience in the scheme of offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey.

With the continuity from last season, the hope for the offense is that, despite Brady’s absence, the passing game stays on target in 2019.