MORGANTOWN -As West Virginia University's Aug. 30 opener against Alabama rapidly approaches, coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff are stepping up their talent evaluations in order to put the best lineup on the field in the Chik-fil-A Classic at Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
Speaking to media members following a light Monday morning practice, Holgorsen updated his thoughts on his fourth Mountaineer team.
Holgorsen had nothing but praise for a pair of sophomore running backs.
"Rushel Shell looks great,'' Holgorsen said. "He had two or three runs where you can see why the hype is there. He's getting much more comfortable and his ball security is good. He runs over people.''
The Mountaineer head coach also is high on Wendell Smallwood.
"Wendell is the most versatile guy we have,'' said Holgorsen. "He continues to break runs and get good short yardage. His receiving skills have improved. He looks good.''
As for other running back candidates, Holgorsen said Dustin Garrison has had a solid camp and that Andrew Buie has been "a little banged up.'' As for Dreamius Smith, Holgorsen said the senior running back is coming off a knee scope a month ago. "We have to get him going,'' Holgorsen said. "There are a lot of bodies at his position.''
One of those bodies belongs to redshirt freshman Elijah Wellman, who already is drawing comparisons to WVU legend Owen Schmitt. Cody Clay and Garrett Hope are fullback candidates.
Discussing wide receivers, Holgorsen said four seniors -Kevin White, Mario Alfred, Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts - "look good.'' He added Logan Moore, a former Fairmont standout who saw time at quarterback in spring drills, could provide depth at wide receiver. Also getting looks are Devonte Mathis, Shelton Gibson, KJ Myers and Vernon Davis. Holgorsen said his staff constantly is re-evaluating the wideouts in order to determine who will receive the most playing time.
Perhaps the most-talked about player in camp is freshman quarterback William Crest, who has been turning heads since he stepped on campus. Holgorsen announced Monday that Crest is "in the mix'' to return punts.
"It's going to depend on what his role is offensively, which we haven't figured out,'' Holgorsen said, adding that it was unlikely neither Crest nor Dravon Henry would be redshirted.
Thompson, who returned punts last year, also is doing that again this fall. The junior wide receiver has a reputation for looking good in practices, but not living up to expectations in games.
Other punt return candidates include Thompson's fellow wideouts, Alfred and Davis.
Alfred and Smallwood, last year's kickoff returners , are being challenged by Daryl Worley, Shelton Gibson and Henry.
In spite of having a number of competent kickoff returners, Holgorsen said WVU must improve its blocking from last year because "it's more about the blocking up front.''
Holgorsen wouldn't identify a specific area of concern, saying "I like where we're at right now.''