Five experienced backs vying for playing time, carries with Mountaineers

Fourth-year junior Dustin Garrison (29) is one of five experienced running backs in the mix for the Mountaineers.

MORGANTOWN — For those looking to get a handle on just how things are progressing as far as the competition is concerned among West Virginia’s deep corps of running backs, JaJuan Seider is not exactly the go-to guy for information.

Yes, he’s the team’s running backs coach. And yes, it sounds as if he’s starting to get a better handle on who is emerging.

But he’s not going to let it slip — not publicly and not in his team meeting room, either.

That would be the worst thing he could do.

“Sure, guys are emerging. But it’s so early in camp that the biggest thing is keeping those guys fresh,’’ Seider said. “The worst thing you can do is make those types of decisions and then you get guys falling back because they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’d rather those guys keep pushing forward. We’ve got a whole other week of camp. You never know how things are going to transpire.’’

Seider, of course, is operating from a position of strength. Running back is probably the deepest position on the offense and right there with the linebacking corps as the deepest on the team. There are five who have played on the FBS level and either started games or come with impeccable credentials.

n Dreamius Smith was the second-leading rusher a year ago behind NFL draft pick Charles Sims. The senior has trimmed down, but is still a power back with speed at 5-foot-11, 216 pounds.

n Rushel Shell, the Pitt transfer, is perhaps the most talented of the group. The leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history, the 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore was impressive enough in the spring that he was No. 2 on the depth chart to start fall camp.

n Wendell Smallwood escaped his brush with the legal system and is right back in the mix. The 5-11, 200-pound sophomore emerged last year as perhaps the most dependable of the backs, save for Sims.

n And in fourth-year juniors Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, West Virginia has its leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. Both are slightly smaller backs in the 5-8 to 5-9 range and 185-190 pounds.

And Seider admits that some have performed better than others. He’s not going to start putting them in any kind of pecking order, though.

“I’d be lying if I told you guys aren’t [excelling]. We’ve got guys making big plays every day, left and right,’’ Seider said. “And the good thing is it’s not just one guy. It’s a plethora of them.’’

There are obviously things that some of those backs do better than others. Smith is the big back, but Shell isn’t far behind where power is concerned. Smallwood might be the best at catching the ball and he might be the guy trusted more than any other to hold onto the football. Garrison and Buie, because of their size, might be the most likely candidates to line up as slot receivers.

But in an attempt to get as many playmakers on the field as possible, Seider said not to be surprised if any of the backs line up in the slot.

“Actually, we’re getting to the point where we’re teaching all of them,’’ Seider said. “It goes back to being a football player, not just a specific guy. If you’ve got a guy with really good ball skills, you’ve got to take advantage of that.

“Plus, who wants to tackle a running back in space? If we can get them out there in the slot, catch a ball and make a linebacker or a safety miss them, shoot, I think I’d take those odds any day of the week.’’

Seider and the rest of the coaches have maintained all along that the competition among the running backs might not really matter all that much. If they have five who can play, why not play them all? Injuries could always mean that all five will be needed.

And because the five seem to have rather versatile skill sets, playing one or another in specific situations is always a possibility.

“I think everyone’s going to contribute in some kind of way,’’ Seider said. “Sometimes blocking is more important than the run play. You put those guys in the slot and they spring the receiver free. To me, those are big plays. Those are just as valuable as the running game.’’

This much is certain, though. Seider isn’t going to let any of them coast by thinking they have a position all lined up. They’re going to have to continue to push.

“I won’t let them think any other way,’’ Seider said. “That’s part of my job as a coach.

“Dreamius and Wendell both busted long runs in practice [late last week], about 60, 70 yards. I made them come right back and get in and go again. I’m not going to let up, and they’re sure not going to let up.’’

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734, or follow @dphickman1 on Twitter.

More News