With the first two weeks of fall camp in the books for the West Virginia football team, the depth available at the running back position thus far has been tremendous, according to running backs coach JaJuan Seider.
From top to bottom, the Mountaineers have a wide range of options to work with in the backfield this season. These include senior Dreamius Smith, sophomore Wendell Smallwood and redshirt juniors Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie.
However, there is one more potential starting running back on this squad, sophomore Pitt transfer Rushel Shell. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has not held back expressing how he feels about Shell.
“He may have the best ball skills – he has tremendous hands, he runs angry (and) he can surprise you in the open field,” Holgorsen said. “I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen out of him.”
Shell, who arrived on campus nearly a year ago, had a lot of work to do to get back to his star-studded playing days. But, while he was sitting out all last season, junior college transfer Smith had other plans of leading the running game for the Mountaineers.
Although former WVU and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Charles Sims came into Morgantown last season and quickly stole Smith’s thunder of starting, Smith said he’s much more confident heading into his final season. He finished second on the squad last season with 494 rushing yards and recording five touchdowns.
“I feel a lot better coming in this year and knowing the schemes of the defense better,” Smith said. “I work hard, and I get extra work in when I can – I’ll use that to my advantage this year.”
With five highly-rated contenders fighting for the starting running back spot, Seider said picking a starter is not just based on their running game – there are many facets to the overall running back position that need to be perfected by a Mountaineer first.
“You don’t want to just be a running back. We hope that we can get them out there in the slot, catch a ball and make a linebacker or a safety miss them,” he said. “We’re just trying to get these guys to understand the position.”
By understanding everything Seider is looking for in his potential starter, Garrison was quick to say that with the level of competition surrounding this backfield, he’s not focusing so much on the starting job as he is on what he can actually do when he’s out on the field.
“It’s not a matter of who starts the game or who plays the most time. It depends on who can do the most on the field for the team with the amount of reps they have,” he said.
As Garrison put it, it all comes down to who can create the most production. This will be the test that truly separates a running back from the rest.
But that won’t be easy according to Holgorsen, who said Smallwood is the Mountaineers’ most versatile guy in the backfield. Seider said Buie, who is a veteran of the team, may be the toughest guy on the squad.
With 15 days until the Mountaineers’ opener against Alabama, many eyes will remain closely locked in on the running back battle, as things are shaping positively for the Mountaineers’ running game in 2014.