HUNTINGTON — Sometimes, timing is everything.
Just ask Marshall wide receiver Talik Keaton.
Last season, Keaton came into the year with high aspirations after putting together a strong preseason.
However, the year ended with Keaton being frustrated by lack of targets and injuries that led to a 17-catch season.
As new head coach Charles Huff entered the scene, however, he brought with him a new offensive scheme that is predicated on getting the ball to playmakers in space — Keaton’s specialty.
The emergence of the new system re-invigorated Keaton, who is eager to become a mainstay within the Herd offense.
“That just makes me happy,” Keaton said with a smile. “An Air Raid offense? That’s what you love, being a receiver...
“I love it because I get involved more. Last year, at my position, the slot receiver didn’t get much involvement, but this year is totally different.”
Keaton’s abilities in space have made him one of the most feared punt return men in Conference USA over the last two seasons.
Now, Keaton is looking to take that to the offensive side as well where the demand for his involvement will be much higher.
The departure of 2020 targets Broc Thompson and Artie Henry means that Keaton’s number will be called in many different areas, which he’s ready to embrace.
“I’ve had to step up more as a leader,” Keaton said. “That’s what they needed me to do and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
For success to be seen in 2021, Keaton knows that there is plenty to be done prior to the Sept. 4 opener with much of it coming down to one word that is becoming familiar within the room.
“The main thing is timing,” Keaton said. “We need to work on our timing so when we get in a game, it’s just easy.”
Keaton said he and quarterback Grant Wells have spent much of summer working together on the timing aspect, as well as communication on the field — both verbal and non-verbal — to make sure they are ready for all situations.
Wells echoed his receiver in speaking on the timing aspect’s importance for each moving forward.
“This scheme is so much predicated on me and the receivers thinking alike,” Wells said.
“Some routes can change depending on what they see and what I see. You can’t have that scheme without me and them thinking the exact same, so this time right now when it’s just practice and we’re going against guys we’d go against every single day, we have to start thinking alike and seeing the same thing on the field.”
In addition to the work through repetitions, Keaton said that wide receivers coach Clint Trickett — a former college quarterback at WVU — has been a valuable asset in film study to gain a better understanding of what Wells is looking for against specific looks, which has the receivers better prepared on the field.
“The thing with Coach Trickett is that he shows us coverages and everything...,” Keaton said.
“He shows us what a quarterback sees, so it can make (what we do) easier on the quarterbacks to help out Grant and Luke and them.”
Whether exploding through a break or eliminating little movements that may slow down the receivers and throw off a route’s execution, all parties are working to make the pass-catch process as smooth as possible.
Wells said every repetition makes the team better, whether it is familiarity or perfecting the fine details of the process — a quarterback’s drop and release or a receiver’s break.
Therefore, the football will be flying plenty over the last two weeks with receivers getting together with Wells and the team’s defensive backs to put in work before the team gets going with official team practice on Aug. 5.
“We make it a competition. That’s the only thing (to do),” Wells said.
“Obviously, you can’t replicate 40,000 fans out there, but you can just make it a competition in practice, make it a competition with the defense and go reps on reps on reps. It happens over a matter of time.”