Practice report: Smith’s turn to step up after Shell shows his stuff

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — From the crowded and richly capable running back race taking shape at West Virginia, it appears Rushel Shell is emerging with a stellar preseason camp.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen noted the Pitt transfer made a big impression during weekend practices:

“He had two or three runs where you say ‘Yeah!’ and you see why the hype was there. He’s running people over. He looks good.”

Along with the pile-pushing power Shell showed as a freshman at his previous school, there’s some elusiveness to the 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore.

“He runs angry, but he can surprise you in the open field,” Holgorsen said.

Though Shell accounted for only nine of the 55 catches by Pitt running backs in 2012, he apparently has the dexterity to factor into West Virginia’s passing game.

“He may have the best ball skills (of the group,)” Holgorsen said. “I found that out recently. He’s got tremendous hands.”

Holgorsen tuned up the media’s attention Monday by announcing “We’ve got to get Dreamius going.” Then he explained that the senior running back—presumably a lead candidate to start against Alabama—has received limited practice reps while recovering from minor knee surgery in June.

Smith was expected to garner a larger dose of work, and a chance to reassert himself, during Monday evening’s practice.

“We kind of did this on purpose, because we wanted to feed the other guys early and let him get his legs underneath him,” Holgorsen said. “This afternoon’s a big day for him.”

West Virginia’s first-team receivers look solidified—Kevin White and Mario Alford on the outside, Daikiel Shorts and Jordan Thompson in the slots.

That leaves the competition to the backups, where Holgorsen said KJ Myers, Devonte Mathis, Vernon Davis and Shelton Gibson are vying to join the rotation.

“We need two of those four to step up,” he said.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said Myers can be used as a swing guy, possessing the capacity to mentally process responsibilities at all four spots. Davis recently helped himself in a scrimmage with a team-high 17 targets that resulted in 15 catches.

For the second consecutive media session, freshman William Crest took reps as the third-team quarterback behind Clint Trickett and Paul Millard.

Earlier Monday, Holgorsen contended the four-star recruit remains “in the mix” at punt returner.

“He’s got great ball skills,” the coach said, who reiterated that Crest’s special-teams availability “is going to depend on what his role is offensively, which we haven’t figure out yet.”

Cornerback Ricky Rumph walked the perimeter of the field in a red jersey, while linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Brandon Golson wore green non-contact tops.

Projected nickelback starter KJ Dillon (ankle) returned to practice, as did reserve offensive guard Stone Underwood (shoulder).

The media was not allowed to watch any of the full-padded 11-on-11 period. While the 30-minute viewing window included mostly individual drills, reporters did get to watch the defensive front seven take on the offensive line in a blitz pick-up exercise.

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