QB Smith has trust in Mountaineer backfield
Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012 00:08
West Virginia senior quarterback Geno Smith is aware of the exceptional passing skills he possesses, but he also knows the Mountaineers can’t go to the air on every play.
Lining up behind Smith are the less-heralded, though equally vital, running backs. Despite lingering concerns about the health of sophomore running back Dustin Garrison, Smith is confident that the ball carriers the Mountaineers plan to utilize this season will play a tremendous role in the level of success this team can ultimately achieve.
"(I have an) extreme amount of trust for (the running backs)," he said. "I would love to have (Garrison), because he is a great guy, and also a really good player, but it’s a thing where the training staff and the coaches have made that decision.
"But, I know that Coach (Robert) Gillespie works those guys extremely hard, day in and day out," he said.
Depth at running back has been an issue for the Mountaineers in the past, but even with the injury to Garrison, running backs coach Robert Gillespie said he feels good about the number of players he has at his disposal.
"I’m comfortable with who we have," he said. "(I’m okay with) four (running backs) – five if I’m being greedy.
"Four is a number we can work with. Right now we’re comfortable with about four guys that we can roll in and do what we actually do," he said.
One of those four players, redshirt senior Ryan Clarke, is finally getting a chance to carry the football again. Last season, Clarke registered zero carries and served in a blocking-only role. That role is about to change again for Clarke, who scored a team-high eight rushing touchdowns in 2010.
Gillespie is confident in Clarke and said he has no second thoughts when it comes to handing him the ball.
"(Clarke) understands his first role to the team, but I have no hesitation now to let him carry the football," he said.
"It’s a long season, and there is going to come a time when he has to be a guy who we can rely on to carry the football. Right now, he has done everything we have asked him to do."
Sharpening his blocking skills last year has catapulted Clarke back up the depth chart and into a position where he can score touchdowns again. Clarke attributes his multi-faceted skill set to coach Gillespie and his focus on knowing multiple positions in the backfield.
"We have the depth – (Coach) Gillespie has been stressing that since camp started – that he wants everybody to play both positions so, as a group, we all have to know each other’s responsibilities and each other’s keys," he said.
"Everybody is ready right now for (any position). We know all of them."
Despite not running the ball at all last year, Clarke said he is not rusty and is ready to resume his ball-carrying duties.
"I feel very confident; (Coach Gillespie) has been preparing me for a while now," he said.
"It’s basically just when your number is called – just stepping in there and being able to fulfill the role on the field."
Alongside Clarke is senior Shawne Alston, whose larger stature is much more similar to Clarke than Garrison and sophomore Andrew Buie. With two bigger backs, it may appear the Mountaineers are moving to more of a power-running game, but Clarke says this isn’t the case.
"I wouldn’t say more of a power-running back style, it’s just that (coach Gillespie) wants to be able to put people on the field that can block and be able to run the ball at the same time – and at this time, I guess (Alston and I) are two of the people that he feels confident with."
Closing in on his final season, Clarke has only one goal in mind – make this season count.
"It’s the last go around, so I’m very excited," he said. "I have had a great career, I feel like, at West Virginia, and I just want to leave on a good note, so it starts this Saturday."