Although the 2013 season was largely marked by inconsistency for West Virginia’s offense, the tailback trio of Charles Sims, Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood proved to be one of the most dynamic and one of the most consistent position groups for the Mountaineers in an up-and-down season.
In his first and only season in Morgantown, Sims quickly gained a reputation for being one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Big 12 and became the first West Virginia running back to reach 1,000 yards in a season since Noel Devine accomplished the feat in 2009.
To complement the flash and quick cutting ability Sims brought to the offense, Dreamius Smith supplied power running ability and showed the capability to break off big runs. Rushing for 494 yards and five touchdowns, Smith was a steady second option for the Mountaineers.
With Sims gone to the NFL, redshirt sophomore Rushel Shell, who transferred to WVU from Pitt in the summer of 2013, will step in and try to fill the void.
Combined with Smith, Smallwood, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, Shell will be part of one of the deepest competitive position groups on the team in 2014.
With five tailbacks to evaluate and choose from heading into the season, running backs coach JaJuan Seider said the competition in the backfield has been a driving force during practice for Shell and the rest of the backs.
"When you start building that culture in your room, it also helps force competition. So now guys are pushing each other," Seider said.
That competitive fire was on display during West Virginia’s spring game, where the four running backs traded carries and tried to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff.
Seider said Shell showcased his versatility during the exhibition and proved that he has the potential to be a major force on the ground in the future.
"You saw Rushel, one play he makes a guy miss, the next he runs a guy over. When he learns how to put it together all at one time he’s going to be pretty damn good," he said.
After redshirting during the 2013 season to stay in line with NCAA transfer requirements, Shell adds yet another dimension to West Virginia’s backfield.
Although he may have to knock off some rust after sitting a full season out, Seider said he sees a bright future ahead for the former four-star recruit.
"I think he’s going to be a really good player before it’s over with. The more comfortable he gets, the better he’s going to get," he said.
"One thing he can do is get downfield in a hurry. He can make a guy miss…I’m very pleased with him."
All five of West Virginia’s running backs have shown the ability to make big plays at the college level at some point in their careers. For the unit to progress as a whole and reach its potential, Seider said there are a few specific things that he is going to focus on improving before the season kicks off.
"We’re going to make big plays. These guys are talented, but can we get the 3rd-and-1 when we need to? Can we finish forward? Our job is to be more physical coming out of spring. I think we’ve accomplished that," he said.