MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Coaches are always talking about the need to create depth on their football teams. West Virginia's coaches are no different.The game is so physical, they say - and the point really can't be argued - that by season's end the difference between winning and losing might not be talent or coaching in this age of parity as much as it is overcoming injuries. Creating depth right from the start is the obvious answer.Well, there are tons of questions about West Virginia's football team as it approaches the 2013 opener in just over a week against William & Mary, but depth doesn't seem to be one of the big concerns.How good the Mountaineers are at every position? Yes, that's up for debate. But how deep they are is not."We do seem to have some bodies just about everywhere,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said."Finding enough players isn't an issue,'' said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. "It's about finding the right ones.''From the skill positions of running back and wide receiver on offense to both sides of the line of scrimmage, the linebackers and the back end of the defense, there has been competition this month. In some cases, the numbers seem even too big.There are as many as a dozen wide receivers with a chance to play. There are five running backs, two of whom - Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison - have had 200-yards-plus rushing games and might be third or fourth team. The most experienced offensive lineman, Pat Eger, isn't likely to start.
On defense, as many as seven players could see action on the three-man line in the first half of the first game. The linebackers with a chance to play number more than a dozen. There are six cornerbacks and there are young safeties with promise who are stuck behind Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook.Again, there is not necessarily safety in numbers because, until the Mountaineers play someone else, it's impossible to tell if this is great depth or just a lot of average players trying to rise above each other.But if nothing else, injuries should affect West Virginia less this year. The talent level might still be an unknown, but it seems obvious that there are a lot of those players at every position with roughly the same talent.Perhaps the position where the greatest depth is needed is at running back. Unlike some other positions, that depth will be used regardless of injury situations.
"The thing about running back is a lot of them are going to play,'' Dawson said. "That's a position where, if you watch college football, you know you need a lot of them to get through the season. It's a physical game and a physical position. Those guys take a lot of beating. To have a bunch of them that can play and not giving 90 percent of the reps to one guy, then you're going to be better.''Buie and Garrison, the team's leading rushers in each of the last two years, may have to take a back seat this year to Houston transfer Charles Sims and junior college back Dreamius Smith. Throw freshman Wendell Smith into the mix and that's five.Of course, two years ago the Mountaineers came out of spring and into the fall with six and it wasn't enough. Vernard Roberts, Trey Johnson, Daquan Hargrett, Shawn Alston, Buie and Garrison all were either hurt and/or left the team.
"You can never have enough,'' Dawson said.At some positions, depth could play a factor in other ways. Take safeties, for instance, where Cook and Joseph are entrenched as the starters. Behind them are K.J. Dillon, Jarrod Harper, Ricky Rumph and promising freshman Jeremy Tyler, all of who might be able to play. But changing safeties isn't like changing running backs or even the cover cornerbacks who play beside them."Safeties are a little different than corners,'' safeties coach Tony Gibson said. "The corners you kind of treat like shooters in basketball. If they're hot they're on the field. And then if they start to struggle you might get them out for a series or two. The safeties are different because they're so involved with the scheme of things. They're making calls and making checks, so it's harder to rotate guys in and out."Now, if we have guys that are equal, then both of them will play. But if a guy stands out and he's just better then he's going to play until he can't play anymore.''There are, however, other opportunities for safeties to play because many times they are the extras on the back end in a nickel or dime package."So there's going to be an opportunity for all those guys to contribute,'' Gibson said.
Then again, sometimes depth isn't an issue if no one gets hurt. Take Joseph, for instance, who led the team in tackles last season and if he had his way would never come out."I'm not really worried about depth,'' Joseph said. "I'll play as many snaps as the coaches want me to.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.