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There's been no stopping Marshall

October 05, 2008|Chris Harry | Orlando Sentinel

TAMPA, Fla. -- Larry Coyer is now an assistant head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but in 2006 he was defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and still describes the play with a combination of wonder and disbelief.

The Broncos trailed at home against Seattle by seven points with just under three minutes to play. The Seahawks, reigning NFC champions, were more than willing to surrender underneath plays to rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, and his first-down pass went short and to the right for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, a fellow rookie.

Coyer watched Marshall catch the ball, turn upfield and split a trio of Seattle defenders, practically breaking their tackles simultaneously, then outrace the rest of the Seahawks defense for a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

"Against a prevent defense," Coyer said. "Greatest play I've ever seen -- ever! And I've been around a while."

Sure, skeptics will wince at that statement, even from a coach whose career dates to 1965.

No one, though, is doubting Marshall's greatness through the first month of the 2008 NFL season.

Marshall, the 24-year-old former University of Central Florida standout, put himself in the league history books last month when he caught 18 passes in a victory against the San Diego Chargers, tying for the second-most in NFL history behind only the 20 balls Terrell Owens caught in a game in 2000.

At 6 feet 4, 230 pounds and making plays all over the field, Marshall is starting to draw some comparisons to T.O.

"Yeah, he's an issue," Tampa Bay secondary coach Raheem Morris said.

Morris says so because the Buccaneers (3-1) face the Broncos (3-1) today at Denver's Invesco Field, meaning Tampa Bay's opportunistic defense gets the next crack at a Denver offense that ranks No. 1. Marshall, who caught 102 passes for 1,325 yards during his breakout '07 season, will go into the game as the league leader with 31 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns.

"I've seen too much of this guy," Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden said.

Marshall, who starred at Florida's Lake Howell High, is looking for a lot more.

"I need to be more consistent," Marshall said in a teleconference. "I'm averaging maybe four or five missed assignments a game. Being the best isn't always making a great catch or having a lot of yards."

It goes way beyond that, as Marshall learned the hard way.

"You have to learn how to be a pro," Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan said. "That comes with time."

Marshall's fat numbers would be even heftier were he not suspended for the first game of the season (a penalty that was reduced from a three-game ban) for violating the league's code of conduct.

His brief NFL time also includes a champagne-spraying incident that some believe precipitated the New Year's Eve shooting death of teammate Darrent Williams, a domestic violence arrest, a DUI charge and a bizarre "horseplay" mess with his brother last March in Orlando when Marshall fell into a television set and cut an artery, vein, nerve, two tendons and three muscles in his right arm.

The latter required emergency surgery, forced Marshall to miss all off-season workouts and prompted a critical response from Cutler last April that got a lot of play in Denver.

"He's not my favorite person right now," Cutler said.

Six months later, the two are on much better terms -- and Marshall is Cutler's favorite target right now.

"My feelings were a little hurt . . . but I guess he thought it needed to be said," Marshall said. "We moved on from it and now we're here."

It's a much better place. The Broncos are averaging 33.4 points and 435.5 yards a game. Marshall is a huge chunk of those numbers.

"I'm a little jealous," Mike Walker said.

Walker, now a wideout for Jacksonville, was Marshall's teammate at UCF and remains his best friend. He's seen the maturation in Marshall, the person, and how it's spilled over to Marshall, the player.

"He's calm now," Walker said. "Every five minutes, Brandon used to be arguing with somebody; with a family member, homeboy, anything, arguing. Such an attitude . . . but I haven't seen that."

Bucs fans might be interested to know that Marshall was available long before the Broncos took him in the fourth round (19th pick) in the 2006 draft. Tampa Bay went with another receiver 29 picks earlier in the third round.

"They took Maurice Stovall," Marshall said.

Stovall has 19 career catches, one more than Marshall had in that San Diego game.

The Bucs shouldn't feel too bad. UCF Coach George O'Leary told Marshall he didn't have the separation speed to play wideout in the NFL, and probably projected as a tight end.


"I think it's just opportunity," Marshall said.

He's taken great advantage of it.

Time will tell if it's the greatest ever.

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