Mountaineers building depth at running back, receiver
MORGANTOWN-With a showdown with No. 2 Alabama less than three weeks away, the battle for playing time at running back and wide receiver continues for the Mountaineers from West Virginia University.
“Guys are emerging,” running backs coach JaJuan Seider said. “It’s so early in camp that the biggest thing is keeping the guys fresh. When you make those type of decisions early, you see guys fall back. If you don’t name them, then they keep pushing and pushing.
“During camp, you never know how things are going to transpire. We have guys making big plays left and right. It’s not just one guy, which is a good thing. It’s a plethora of them.”
Words echoed by offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
“We’re going to have to work on that at receiver,” Dawson said. “We will identify them closely. The way we’re using running backs, specific individual skill sets might be different. Eighty to 90 percent of our game plan will be general. Fifteen percent of the game plan will be specialized with individuals.
“There will be a margin of things that are like that, but the majority will be things that they can all do.”
Tops on that list will be finding a solid replacement for leading rusher Charles Sims and developing a corps of receivers that can stretch the field with their speed, but at the same time make big plays when they are needed most.
Looking to step in for Sims, who rushed for 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns after transferring to WVU from the University of Houston, is junior college transfer Dreamius Smith. University of Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell, sophomore Wendell Smallwood, and juniors Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie.
Smith was the team’s second leading rusher last season, finishing with 494 yards and five scores on 103 carries while Smallwood contributed 221 yards and one touchdown on 39 totes of the pigskin as a true freshman.
Buie, who led the team with 851 yards and seven touchdowns rushing in 2012, and Garrison-the team’s leading rusher in 2011 with 742 yards and six scores-both are coming off injuries that caused them to miss much, if not all, of last season while Shell made the move down I-79 to Morgantown after being the Panthers’ No. 2 rusher.
“Everyone will contribute in some kind of way,” added Seider. “Sometimes blocking is more important than the running play. Sometimes you need to get a receiver free or something. Those are big plays for me.”
At receiver, Daikiel Shorts returns as the team’s leader in catches with 45 (495 yards, 2 TDs) while Mario Alford and Kevin White finished with more yards. Alford latched onto 27 passes for 552 yards and two touchdowns and White was close behind with 507 yards and five touchdowns on 35 catches.
“It’s a process,” said receivers coach Lonnie Galloway. “It’s always a process. Kevin (White), Mario (Alford) and Daikiel (Shorts) have the most experience with the group. But, we have to have more than three guys catching the ball.
“Freshman Shelton Gibson is doing some good things. He is still basically a freshman trying to go out there and learn what to do. Jordan (Thompson) is having his best camp yet and Logan (Moore) is a utility guy who is going to play some quarterback, do some special teams and line up in the slots.”
If Seider and Galloway can continue to build depth at their respective positions, then WVU may return to the offensive attack that averaged 35 points per game instead of the one that struggled to average 26 points during last year’s 4-8 campaign.