WKU coaches remain cautious with Doyle, Vasquez during fall camp

Cole Claybourn

WKU fans will remember the Louisiana-Lafayette game last season as the game when WKU broke its 26-game losing streak.

Jack Doyle will also remember it as the game he suffered a neck injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The injury lingered and limited the junior tight end during spring practice, and he’s just now glad to be back on the field.

“I feel like I haven’t played football in forever,” Doyle said. “Of course I’m excited to be back and get rolling. I’m just trying to make this camp and make it fun.”

Coaches, though, aren’t ready to give Doyle the green light just yet. He’ll wear a yellow jersey throughout fall camp, signifying that he’s not to be tackled.

That jersey will be worn over extra padding on his shoulders and neck area to help prevent a similar injury from occurring, just in case he does get hit.

Finding the right workload balance for Doyle will be a point of focus for Head Coach Willie Taggart and newly appointed tight ends coach Stu Holt throughout fall camp before WKU’s season opener Sept. 1 against Kentucky.

“We want to make sure we get Jack the work that he needs,” Taggart said. “We all know what Jack can do and we understand how valuable he is for our football team. We want to make sure Jack gets to Sept. 1 and we’ve been really careful with what we ask him to do.”

It’s obvious why Taggart and the coaches would want to be careful with Doyle. When he’s been healthy, he’s been one of their main offensive weapons.

In just seven games last season, Doyle caught 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns  good for fourth on the team in receiving yards.

He was named to the all-freshman team in 2009 after starting 10 games and catching 37 passes for 365 yards and a touchdown.

Despite the time he’s missed due to injury, Doyle was still recognized this offseason, as he was named to the Mackey Award watch list  the award given to the nation’s best tight end.

“He was like my Jack Bauer from 24,” Taggart said. “When he went down, we were in trouble. Jack’s just got to be honest with us, and as coaches, we’ve got to be smart. We can’t ask him to do everything and put himself in jeopardy.”

As for Doyle, he realizes he’s slowly running out of time at WKU. Knowing that, he said he’s ready to make this year count.

“It seems like my career is flying behind me,” he said. “It’s time to step up. I’m not a young guy any more. I didn’t feel like a young guy last year either, but it’s time to step up and do my job.”

Doyle isn’t the only player with which Taggart and the other coaches are being cautious.

Junior wide receiver Marcus Vasquez broke his collarbone last season against Florida Atlantic, which forced him to sit out the remainder of the season.

He too, along with Doyle and senior running back Bobby Rainey, will be wearing a yellow jersey throughout fall camp.

A healthy Vasquez is just as important as a healthy Doyle, Taggart said.

“When Jack and Marcus went down, it really became the Bobby Rainey show,” he said. “It’s important we get him back in football shape before we ask him go out and let someone tackle him. He’s too important to what we’re doing.

“He’s a veteran and we need him. We need his leadership and experience on the football field.”

Vasquez’s attitude has been great, Taggart said, and his drive to get back to full strength has been even better.

He is indeed back at full health, and if he had it his way, he’d be getting tackled in practice.

“Marcus doesn’t like wearing that yellow jersey,” Taggart said. “He gets ticked off and keeps coming to me, ‘Please coach, please man.'”

Vasquez has to put up with the trash talk from the defensive backs who rib him for not getting tackled. While that might bother him now, Taggart said it’s for the best.

“Those guys hate (wearing the yellow jerseys),” Taggart said. “But I tell them, ‘you’ve just got to deal with it. Just understand – those guys are going to talk to you now and make you competitive and fired up, but we need you to be healthy come Sept. 1 and many weeks after that.'”