MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Today brings the seventh episode of an eight-day video series providing a position-by-position examination of where the West Virginia football team stands after spring practice.

We scour the two-deep and break down a Mountaineers team seeking to improve upon last season’s 4-8 finish.

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THE LINEUP
Tue., April 15
 Defensive line: Can no-name group hold the front?
Wed., April 16
 Linebackers: Will they be nasty or negligible?
Thur., April 17
 Secondary: Trying to reverse two dreadful years of pass defense
Fri., April 18
 Special teams: Aiming to be really special in 2014?
Mon., April 21
 Offensive line: Are the Mountaineers vulnerable up front?
Tue., April 22
 Receivers: Can they get their swagger back?
Wed., April 23
 Running backs: Is this the best unit in the Big 12?
Thur., April 24
 Quarterbacks: Can any of the current QBs win eight games?

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Ben Queen/MetroNews photo

Pitt transfer Rushel Shell had eight carries for 37 yards and two catches in the Gold-Blue spring game. He’s listed third-string on the running back depth chart.

 

Despite losing 2013 offensive MVP Charles Sims—whose one-year stopover produced 1,095 yards rushing, 45 receptions and 14 combined touchdowns—West Virginia isn’t concerned about its running backs situation. There’s too much talent, too much versatility returning.

“Everybody says we were going to have a big dropoff with losing a great player like Charles, but I thought our guys answered the bell in the spring,” said running backs coach JaJuan Seider. “There are some pretty talented guys in that room. I think a couple of them may be able to play on Sundays if they do what they need to do.”

Pitt transfer Rushel Shell is the best power back, while Dreamius Smith marries a breakaway burst with the ability to pound between the tackles. Then there’s the sleaker Wendell Smallwood, who feels equally natural running draws as he does catching passes in the slot.

“Will we have a bellcow? I don’t know,” Seider said. “But I know if a guy gets hot, he’s going to stay in there, and I think we’ve got some guys who can get hot really fast.”

“We probably won’t have a guy go for 1,700 or 1,800 yards because we’re pretty deep in that backfield. But let’s be a group that at the end of the year we have 2,500 or 2,700 yards rushing as a whole group, because then you are productive.”

Projected starters: Smith (5-11, 224, senior) and Shell (6-0, 218, redshirt sophomore) figure to command the bulk of the carries, but Smallwood (5-11, 202, sophomore) possesses a Sims-like versatility.

“In the spring, he probably was our best football player,” Seider said.

Cody Clay (6-4, 256, redshirt junior) is the leader at H-back. He displays a body a built for blocking but possesses enough mobility and hands to make possession-type catches from the slot.

Backups: Dustin Garrison (5-8, 180, redshirt junior) and Andrew Buie (5-9, 188, redshirt junior) appear to be down the pecking order. They are guys competent enough to contribute situationally should injuries necessitate, but not the kind of backs that typically start for a Big 12 power. Then again, few programs have the luxury of a fourth-string tailback like Garrison who led the team in rushing as a freshman, or a fifth-stringer like Buie who carved up Texas for 200-plus.

At the H-back, Elijah Wellman (6-2, 235, redshirt freshman) emerged as a goal-line receiving threat during the spring.

Watch the video at the top of the page for player highlights and to learn how Allan Taylor and Justin Hoff grade the running backs after spring practice.

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Comments

  • Rich

    Not only do we have a ton of depth at this position but they are also the most talented group on the team. Smith was JUCO All-American, Schell was a 4 star recruit, Garrison lead us in rushing as a true FR, Buie has a 200 yd game @ Texas on his resume and Smallwood may be the best of all of them according to the coaches. Add in another 4 start recruit coming in and we are loaded in the backfield. Still the pessimist in me is nervous, anyone else feeling that way? Will all of them get enough touches? Most have used a redshirt or transfer year so I would hope we wouldn't lose anyone to a transfer but why do I think something can/will go wrong here?

    • john

      I'm a pessimist as well but i have to think that the RBs could be something this year…it all hinges on the O-line though. they look better and have more depth but you never know the spring can be deceiving at times. still though i do love our guard combo and can't wait to see to shell or smith running behind them

  • jay zoom

    as of right now they might be the best on paper. we will see how they perform on the field before we set off the fireworks but in all reality it will be wait until next year again 4-8 THANKS OLLIE. oh by the way a starting quarterback has been mentioned TRICKETT Holgerson must be grasping for straws .

  • Jordan Maynard

    There forgetting Thomas Williams also

  • Steve

    The bottom line is we don't use the fullback to run for short yardage so use Smallwood on third down and pass the ball. Third down is our Achilles heel. We can go back and look at our history and if we don't convert on third down we lose. Simple. Give it to the big boys and call it a day. If rb is your strong suit, use it. Keep the defense off the field then you don't have to worry about it. By the third quarter our d is wore out and they can't keep up. This offense would leave Owen Smitt on the bench.

  • Aaron

    Today Smallwood is called "the best inside receiver on the team by one commentator while the other said he will see the field at the inside slot yet no mention of Smallwood during yesterday’s conversation about receivers. If Smallwood is as talented as these two say he is, he should not come off the field, especially since one of the two in grading receivers yesterday stated his B grade was a result of unimpressive back-ups.
    At any rate, if WVU is going to win more than 4 games, they will have to make plays on the offensive side of the ball. I don’t think many realize that last year this team threw for well over 3000 yards while rushing for another 1800 and averaged 400 yards a game so I’m not so sure we will see huge improvements over those numbers. What I believe the offense needs to do is be more balanced, the quarter backs need to increase their passing efficiency while reducing interceptions and run the ball. If Seider’s wishes of a 2500 yard rushing season come to fruition and last year’s passing yardage is accomplished in a more efficient manner, WVU will be successful on the offensive side of the ball and surprise more than a few teams next year.

    Of course, they still have to play defense so unless that side of the ball improves, it’s going to be a long year. In looking at the schedule, my heart wants to say 8-4 but my head says not so fast and believes this team will be 6-6 after Thanksgiving weekend.

    • John

      If WVU's QB can't throw the ball, D's will load up the box and stop the run. You could have the world's best RB's but if there are more guys than we can block because we can't pass, it won't matter. Until a QB is established, I am pessimistic about this team's chances. They will be favored vs. Towson & KU and TCU, KSU and ISU will be a "pick em". They will be underdogs in the other 7. I see 4-8 but Holgs gets one more year given the recruits coming in.

      • Aaron

        QB's threw for ~270 yards a game last year.

        • Hailey

          Aaron, please quit spewing facts, the trolls hate facts

    • Tucus Facius

      So you're saying that if WVU scores more points on offense than the opposing team's offense and our defense holds the opposing team's offense to less points than our offense scores that we will win some games? Sweet! Sign me up!

      Now if you include the special teams unit, then we will have "all three sides of the ball" covered which is incredible when you think about it because a football is considered a prolate spheroid.

      Please tell me oh Obi-Wan, why have you not brought forth this break-through knowledge before the masses prior to this post? We await further enlightenment...please expand.

      • Aaron

        You can change the name hatter but the average still comes through.

        • hailey

          *below average*.... by the way what adult with an IQ over 15 makes a Star Wars character a part of their vocabulary in a sports story?

          • Anal Passage

            Why would anyone with a negative IQ call themselves hailey?

  • Rick55

    I loved Charles Sims. Great college multi-purpose back to be sure.

    If I had a fantasy team I wouldn't mind having this backfield, taken as a whole. Unfortunately, in real life, the running game depends largely on pesky things like the O-line and the success of the passing game.

    Here's to hoping that the other areas improve and the running game can really shine.

    Will Holgorsen use Mario Alford at RB for one game anyway?

  • Miguel

    This is a excellent group of RBs. If we can get solid play out of our OL, WVU should be able to run the ball effectively. Getting a good running game is the key to this season, as it will help open up our passing down field and allow our defense to rest.

  • ole sasquatch

    Best unit in the Big 12?
    Oh, at least. The very best in all ways.

  • Dave

    What a great luxury it is to have such a great group of backs to get you through the season. Shell,Smith,Smallwood,Garrison or Buie could all start. It's really hard to pick the top 3.