Marshall football: Penn State transfer Smith relishes opportunity
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Tommy Shuler's misfortune has become Devon Smith's benefit.
Shuler, the Marshall football team's record-setting slot receiver and a Biletnikoff Award watch list member, still hasn't gone through a full practice, recovering from offseason foot surgery. That's allowed Smith, a Penn State transfer who redshirted last season, to play with the first-string offense in his place.
Smith feels that experience won't just help him. It'll help quarterback Rakeem Cato and the rest of the Thundering Herd offense.
"It's something I need," Smith said. "I just need to learn the offense more. So me getting all those reps is making me learn the offense, making Cato more comfortable with me, and when I need to get in for Shu, it'll still be clicking."
A Maryland state high school champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, the 5-foot-7, 155-pound Smith always has been known for his speed. As he becomes more familiar with the offense, he said that should help him become even faster.
"It'll make me more comfortable with my routes and my hands," he said. "I'll know where to be at the right time and at the right place."
The senior also has been working at both kick return and punt return. He was a standout punt returner for the Nittany Lions, finishing second in the Big Ten as a sophomore with a 12.9-yard return average. He'd love to work at both spots during games this year.
"I'll try to do anything to help my team win," he said. "That's probably what I'm most excited about. I'm just trying to bring that spark back up."
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REDSHIRT SOPHOMORE receiver Davonte Allen is starting to heal and starting to play a bigger role in Marshall's offense this preseason. He had a couple of nice catches Thursday afternoon, including a stretching touchdown grab near the back of the end zone over Darryl Roberts.
"He hasn't played ball in a while," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "He was out all spring and missed the first week of camp. For him to get back, he's a tremendous athlete with tremendous skills. It won't take long for him."
Allen's return helps Holliday in his mission to create a deep receiving corps. He hopes to have 10 to 12 receivers capable of playing effectively.
"I'd love to have that many that can play," Holliday said. "I think we have the potential to get there with some of these younger kids."
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STEFAN HOUSTON didn't play a ton of linebacker at Fork Union Military Academy. He mostly stuck with the free safety spot. But when the freshman arrived in the spring, he got a crash course at linebacker in new coordinator Chuck Heater's scheme.
"It was hard," Houston said of the transition. "Usually, I'm back there eyeing the ball, just seeing where the ball goes and covering it. Now I have to get a feel for down in the box and just learn how to play faster and physical."
That doesn't mean the 6-foot-3, 220-pound newcomer has tossed his safety skills aside. He said they still come in handy.
"I use most of my safety instincts - keying the ball, keying the receivers that are outside of me and positioning myself to make a good play," he said.
And they especially come in handy in Heater's nickel package, a look Marshall's defense has used a lot this preseason. The fifth defensive back replaces the third linebacker, so Houston finds himself in familiar surroundings.
"It gives the two linebackers more support from the outside and it gives the linebackers more room inside the box," he said, "so we can move around a lot, see the ball a lot and attack where it goes."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.