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Booker brings toughness to slot receiver

ANDRE BOOKER, all 5-foot-whatever of him, was called Marshall's most physical wide receiver after Saturday's scrimmage.

Who knew?

You might if you saw the scrimmage, in which he and Chris Alston shared ironman duty at slot receiver. The two combined to take every snap, and combined for 19 catches in a performance that left fans almost forgetting Jermaine Kelson and Jazz King were out.

Booker, generally known as the man so fast it seems to cost him his balance, has indeed developed a little toughness over the years. Seeing him without pads Saturday, he looks a lot different than he did in 2009, when coach Mark Snyder burned his redshirt in a selfish act of desperation.

(That move gets more grating by the minute. I mean, how excited would a Thundering Herd fan be if Booker and Aaron Dobson had two seasons remaining instead of one?)

He may be nowhere near his listed 5-foot-10, but Booker is more solidly built. Coming out of the slot, he is not shy about contact.

He caught seven passes for 75 yards in the scrimmage, with a few slant patterns standing out. He fought for 12 yards on a third-and-6 and slipped through the second level for 21 yards on third-and-7.

His biggest play came on a second-and-15, when he nearly broke a 65-yard touchdown catch-and-run. It took a spirited chase by Keith Baxter to hold Booker to 37 yards.

"He's by far the most physical receiver we've got," said quarterback Rakeem Cato. "He'll do anything, sacrifice his body; he's just a wall. A wall running into a wall. He doesn't care about his body."

(A wall running into a wall? Cato and backup QB Blake Frohnapfel are waging a fierce battle to be the team's best quote.)

Booker has bounced around the offense over the years, and seems to be settling in the slot for good. That's a good thing - he doesn't have Dobson's height to dominate cornerbacks on the outside and he's now solid enough to take hits from linebackers and safeties.

And keep on going. One of his best assets: He runs forward and doesn't try to be a "dance king."

"That's one thing Coach Doc [Holliday], he stresses: You catch the ball, you get up north, and no dancing around," Booker said. "That what he likes to see, especially on the next level - get that extra yardage, don't go running backwards."

Antavious Wilson, having a nice spring as the starting "Y" receiver, might take note. He tried to juke a cornerback, who took advantage of the wasted motion to make an easy tackle. As I recall, Wilson was not chosen for the poolside dance contest at the bowl game last December.

With good reason.

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  • Much is being made about the re-emphasis of press coverage by the cornerbacks under new position coach Lytrel Pollard. This has been a hot-button issue, before and after West Virginia's 2009 comeback, aided by prevent-type cushions from Herd corners.

    It worked to some degree Saturday, as outside receivers were held to shorter gains or denied the ball. Then again, Cato threw some passes long and wrong.

    That didn't last forever. On a fourth-and-4 from the defense's 33-yard line, Dobson got a step on Monterius Lovett, caught a perfect Cato lob and scored.

    I like solid man-to-man coverage as much as the next guy - especially as much as Marshall blitzes - but be forewarned: Every so often, the opposing band is going to play.

    "I liked it until our last two-minute drill," Holliday said of Saturday's "press" performance. "You guys all like that press [but] when they throw one about 60 yards on you, it's not really damn good.

    "But those kids are really getting up there. Lytrel's done a nice job with them, and Swag [Darryl Roberts] and a couple of them have done pretty good."

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  • It might just be my imagination, but linebacker Armonze Daniel is salvaging his first spring.

    You may remember that when he signed, he came with that shiny fourth star, bestowed by ESPNU. He didn't appear to be close to losing his redshirt last fall.

    I really have wondered about him this spring, especially after seeing the 6-4 Daniel get manhandled by 5-11 running back Remi Watson in the man-on-man, offense-vs.-defense drill earlier this month. A workout or two later, he got worked over by tight end Rakim Reed, who is also 6-4.

    Something might have clicked Saturday for Daniel. He battled Reed on even terms in the pre-scrimmage test of machismo, and then enjoyed a 13-tackle performance to match his jersey number. He also had two tackles for loss and intercepted a pass, a Cato pass mishandled by receiver Demetrius Evans.

    As young as Marshall's linebacker corps is, the Herd needs all the quality it can cultivate on the second string. It needs Daniel to blossom.

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  • And finally, more evidence Cato is really thinking on his feet these days.

    Cato wasn't even in the game, but was on the field behind the action. He saw something wasn't quite right among the receivers on the left side of the formation, and tried to do something about it. Eventually, he joined the formation.

    "That was Chris [Alston], and I guess he was tired. Booker came in [or was supposed to]," Cato explained. "And he wasn't really in. They didn't know who was in, so I tried to line up as a receiver, tried to get a play so there wasn't 10 men on the field."

    Hey, he does know all the routes, right?

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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