It was a much different looking offense for Marshall in 2015, with a new quarterback calling the shots and the Miami-Central connection no longer in Huntington. The Herd had high hopes of continuing its aerial assault with Davonte Allen and Deon-Tay McManus working to create a vertical threat on the outside, but the plan never flourished, leaving Marshall searching for answers.
Deandre Reaves answered the call.
Reaves played nearly every position for Marshall except lineman and quarterback during his four seasons with the Herd, and his senior season was nothing less than a roller coaster of a ride. Reaves started in the slot, move to the outside and finally landed back where he started, in the slot. Reaves gave Marshall an explosive offensive threat, hauling in four touchdowns while averaging 54 yards per outing. The issue for the Herd, the outside receivers never stepped up, allowing defenses to bracket the speedy Reaves.
Now Marshall must look for another spotlight player to step forward in 2016 if the aerial attack has any chance of getting off the ground. Here's a look at who returns for the Herd this season.
Deon-Tay McManus, RS-JR: 6-1, 228: 35-334, TD: After hauling in six touchdowns in his rookie campaign, McManus fell victim to the sophomore slump last year. Marshall had high hopes of McManus taking the top off the defense as an outside receiver. The plans never developed and McManus found himself in a battle for his starting job midway through the season. McManus had several stars when he arrived at Marshall. He needs to start shining like one in 2016.
Justin Hunt, SR: 6-3, 203: 20-295, 4 TD: The up side of Justin is he has decent speed and his height creates an issue for smaller corners and safeties. The downside, he has issues catching the ball. However, Hunt made major strides in his junior season and earned his first career start, bumping McManus to WR2. Hunt runs a good route and finds a way to make the spectacular catch in traffic. However, he also finds a way to drop a wide-open ball when the closest defender is 20 yards away. Justin has a chance to make a memorable senior season and Marshall is certainly hoping he can do just that.
Hyleck Foster, JR: 5-11, 185: 17-96: After losing his spot in the receiver's room, Foster made the transition to running back and provided the Herd a much-needed option in the backfield. Now the question becomes, will he return as a receiver in 2016? Foster is a dual threat back and could provide Marshall a dynamic option out of the backfield on check downs and swing routes. Foster has nice speed and is very shifty, but has been prone to putting the ball on the turf at times. He will always be known for the catch he made against WKU two seasons ago in overtime. Marshall needs more of that style of play in 2016.
Josh Knight, SR: 6-1, 193: 3-44: Knight has been a player searching for an opportunity for the Herd. 2016 might just be the chance he's been looking for. He has only five catches for 57 yards in his career with the Herd, typically not seeing the field until the game is in hand at the end. If Knight has a good spring and fall, he could be a valid option for SLOT2. If not, keep the mop handy.
Nick Mathews, SO: 5-10, 168: 4-29: This was the feel good story out of camp last year. As a walk-on, Mathews earned himself into the slot rotation solely because of his work ethic and team attitude. Doc Holliday didn't even know his name in the early parts of camp. He only knew Mathews as No. 87. The undersized kid from Virginia has the heart of Rudy. If his skill can progress in the off-season, Marshall could have a college version of Julian Edelman roaming Huntington. With the slot position wide open in 2016, Mathews has more than a scholarship to play for. There's also a starting job in the wings and Mathews name is right there in the mix.
Raylen Elzy, SO: 6-7, 200: 2-8: Elzy was a surprise to see on the field in 2015 as it appeared he would take a redshirt and be ready in 2016. However, Holliday decided to roll out the tall lanky receiver as the Herd searched for an outside threat. Much like Hunt, Elzy's height gives him an immediate advantage on the defense. His hands must become much better as he struggles with a pass with some zip as well as balls that are slightly off the mark.
One other player of note to keep an eye out for in 2016 is Michael Clark. Standing 6-foot 7, he creates an unbelievable matchup issue for anyone on defense. Clark has a connection with Herd quarterback Chase Litton, as they both hail from the Sunshine State. Clark was a hoops star and is ready to try his hand at Division-I football. The Herd also added some dynamic high school receivers on signing day as well that should compete for playing time in the fall.
Of course, there are still a few receivers missing from this list...the tight ends. But that is for next time, as the 2016 Marshall Preview continues.