Two Central Florida alums who are also two of the league's elite players at their respective positions will go face-to-face on occasion Sunday.
Cornerback Asante Samuel and Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall were teammates for one season at Central Florida. In 2002, Samuel was putting the finishing touches on a record-breaking career as he shattered the school mark for pass deflections. Marshall was one of two true freshmen to see the field that year as he played in nine games.
Samuel has continued his record-setting ways in the NFL. He owns the league record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown in the postseason. Marshall has also penned some new chapters in the league's record books. This season, Marshall set the NFL record for most receptions in a single game with 21 in a loss to the Colts. Marshall had 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns in that game. In just his fourth NFL season, Marshall has eight 10-catch games which are the most in NFL history for a player's first four seasons.
Marshall is second in the NFL with 93 receptions this season for 1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns.
At 6-4, 230 pounds, Marshall can play all three wide receiver positions - that is why he will on occasion line up across from Samuel. In fact, Marshall will line up on the left side most often which is Sheldon Brown's side. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott admitted this week that it's tough to scheme for Marshall.
"He is, although we've faced very good receivers and tight ends in the past," McDermott said. "He brings a combination of size and speed and then he can track a football with the best of them. He's got great hands. I think we've all seen several highlights of him this year, throughout the season, making one-handed catches; over top and underneath defensive backs. They move him around within the formation which makes it difficult from a matchup standpoint."
Marshall will even line up in the slot. That means the 5-9, 185-pound Joselio Hanson must tackle well because the Broncos will throw quick screens to Marshall inside.
"Obviously, he's an explosive guy. He's a big, strong guy. One of the few guys that's very dangerous after the catch," said cornerback Dimitri Patterson. "I think that's his biggest strength. After he gets the ball in his hands, he turns into another guy. We want to contain that. We want to be as physical as possible with him and frustrate him, get him off his game and hopefully we're successful with that."
Patterson added that there is a tendency to want to play more physical to get the bigger receivers off their route. However, one must proceed with caution if taking that approach.
"Sometimes you get too aggressive and then the flags appear on the field. We want to stay within the scheme and when the opportunity presents itself, and it will, just every chance we get, make it hard for him," Patterson said. "We don't want to be allowing him to catch in space. We want someone always around him, someone always putting a hand in his face and someone's always putting hands on him, and that's how you contain a physical receiver."
Last week, the Eagles focused on containing explosive 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who entered the game the league's leader with 11 touchdown receptions. Davis was held to just three receptions. Marshall is equally dangerous because he can execute the underneath routes, stretch the field and make you pay in the red zone.
"He's just very explosive. He's got the total package. He's a prototype. He's one the receivers you want on your side," said free safety Macho Harris. "Preparing for him is going to be a good challenge for us. We have great corners. We feel like we have a great secondary, so it's going to be a good challenge."
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 1:52 p.m., December 26