Recruitment of skill players a must for ‘Trojan Spread’ to thrive

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Sports Editor

Playing wide receiver in TSU offensive coordinator John Shannon’s ‘Trojan Spread’ offense has its advantages.

For one, if you’re fast, tall and catch a football, then you’re sure to see playing time. Quarterback Brock Nutter is flanked by four, sometimes five, wide outs a majority of the time and on any given play the ball could be coming your way.

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A disadvantage?

You’ve got to know what you’re doing.

And a look at the current wide out situation at Troy State is indicative of that.

The scenario earlier in the season read like a version of Snow White, entitled "Heyward Skipper and the Seven Dwarves." On the field it was the junior from Baxley, Ga., who made the plays, who became Nutter’s go-to guy, who scored the points when the Trojans needed them. Skipper had clearly blossomed

in Shannon’s offense.

His fellow wide outs, however, were struggling.

They dropped balls. They blew routes. They made mental mistakes.

Skipper led the Trojans in receptions for the first six games of the year, including two 100-plus yard efforts against Cal-State Northridge and Middle Tennessee.

Head coach Larry Blakeney and Shannon both agreed another receiver needed to step up.

Finally, in the seventh game of the year, one did. Thomie Venisee, also a junior, had a career game at homecoming against Southern Utah to lead all TSU wide outs. That trend continued on Saturday against Maryland when sophomore Chris Day caught seven balls for 102 yards.

But Shannon and Blakeney both know it will be some years before the ‘Trojan Spread’ offense can fully realize its potential.

"We aren’t close to where we need to be offensively," said Blakeney. "I realize that, John realizes that and the offensive staff realizes that. We are short, receiver-wise, as to the people that can get the job done."

Previous recruiting classes were geared toward a conservative, run-orientated, offensive approach.

Blakeney saw the changes coming with the transition to Division 1-A, recruiting nine players in 2001 who could play either defensive back or wide receiver. Two of those, junior college transfer Eric Felton and true freshman Jason Samples, have already seen significant playing time this season at wide out.

Shannon, who arrived in the spring, will throw his hat into the recruiting race during the offseason.

"The first thing you look for speed. The second thing you look for his speed. The third thing you look for his quickness," said Shannon when asked what he looked for in a potential wide receiver. "Of course, you may need a little more height on the outside to create mismatches, but the main thing you need is speed."

Shannon should know.

In 1999, Shannon’s offense at Jackson State averaged more then 500 yards per game and totalled 5,500 yards in the season.