HUNTINGTON — It doesn’t look like another case of nightmarish injury luck for Marshall cornerback Keith Baxter, but there he was on the turf Friday, getting his leg stretched out by a trainer.
Could it be a tweaked hamstring? Perhaps. Whatever the case, he was held out of the last hour or so of the Thundering Herd’s fifth practice as a precaution.
His prognosis was uncertain as a Friday evening, but this is not: Baxter is determined not to lose more time on his still-promising career.
“I’m going to get through 13, 14 games,” he said a day earlier. “I’m going to work hard in the training room, keep doing extra stuff on my own, like extra lifting. I’m going to be ready to play 14 games.”
The 5-foot-11, 192-pound junior from Homestead, Fla., has been at least nicked up constantly, it seems, since he arrived in Huntington. He still has yet to play a game in his No. 5 jersey — he wore No. 8 his freshman and sophomore years, then missed all of last year with a shoulder injury.
As a sophomore in 2012, he played 11 games and started nine, making 33 tackles with an interception and six pass breakups. With a new defensive coaching staff arriving, he was motivated to reverse the disasters of that 5-7 season.
Those maladies were reversed to a great degree, as the Herd rose from 96th nationally in pass defense (by efficiency rating) in 2012 to 13th last year. But Baxter was forced to watch it all with his injured shoulder, taking a redshirt season.
He did get some work done, and it wasn’t all about watching film and hanging with his position mates.
“I didn’t take practice seriously,” he said. “Taking the training room seriously, I never was really into all of that stuff. I would get injured and it was like, ‘I’m not going to take stuff seriously.’ I think my attitude got a lot better, my approach to the game [while] being injured so much.”
Chuck Heater, the defensive coordinator who also serves as secondary coach, tends to agree. He has Baxter getting action with both the first unit, opposite Darryl Roberts, and with the second unit. Virginia Tech transfer Donaldven Manning and 2013 nickel back Corey Tindal are competing hard, with Michael Johnson also in the picture.
The top freshmen are D’Andre “Chocolate” Wilson and Antavis Rowe.
After spring practice, Baxter simply worked out with his pals — and that meant playing a lot of man-to-man defense on Tommy Shuler. By now, Shuler is a mismatch for anybody — on one seven-on-seven play, he faked Rowe into the turf. Literally.
“I think I have improved on my man coverage, and my overall knowledge of the game,” Baxter said. “Especially in man coverage, I got a lot more patient. I worked a lot with Tommy Shuler over the summer and worked a lot on my hands. You’ve got to be patient with Tommy, because he’ll leave you where you’re at.
“I worked out a lot with Tommy and [receiver Craig] Wilkins and [quarterback Rakeem] Cato, so I got a lot better this summer.”
Heater hopes he stays better. And healthy.
“I think he’s hungry,” Heater said. “He has been deprived of football for two years; that’s frustrating. But he’s hungry, I think he watched what happened last year. He’s like, ‘If I buy into what’s going on here, I can have success, too.’
“He’s changed a lot in my mind, in terms of changing his approach to things. And he’s a very likable guy.”
Reach Doug Smock at email@example.com, 304-348-5130 or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.