"I did see a lot of progress out of the running backs this spring, but there is still a long way to go," assistant coach Calvin Magee
said following WVU's spring-ending scrimmage. "Eddie Davis
and Tay (Jetavious Best
) made improvements, but there's still a lot of work to do. Ed Collington
was just kind of stuck [this spring], but he is still in there too."
With starter Steve Slaton sidelined from scrimmage work to allow his surgically-repaired wrist to heal (progress in that area is good as well), the competition was wide open for those players competing to spell Slaton, or play alongside him at times. There is also time available at slot receivers, as West Virginia continues its tactic of forcing defenders to cover the entire field.
"We want to spread the field, so getting backs out there in the slot will continue to be something we emphasize," Magee said. "We want to get the ball to those guys out in space and let them work in the open field."
To that end, the backs will have to continue to work on their ball catching skills and reads, which are just two of the laundry list of items Magee has for each of his charges to improve upon. Davis had a nicely tracked over the shoulder catch on a seam route in the scrimmage, and appears to be the most advanced of the three competitors in that regard. Magee, however, still has a not-so-secret weapon to deploy in the passing game -- fullback/tight end/superback Owen Schmitt.
"It's still about getting your best 11 out there," Magee reiterated as he noted that Schmitt, next to Slaton, was the best pass-catcher in his group.
Schmitt is certainly one of that group, and his versatility will allow WVU to jump into different formations without substituting, which will keep defenses from keying their own substitution patterns and defensive calls off West Virginia's personnel packages. Schmitt could line up in the backfield with Slaton in various roles, or could move down to tight end to give the Mountaineers a two-tight end set, all without changing the personnel on the field. But in any event, it would be a mistake to count him out of the running back derby at this point. He'll still get a few carries, and could be the pass receiving threat that the Mountaineers have lacked off the line as well.
As for Davis, Best and Collington, the upcoming fall practice sessions will be loaded with work.
"There are so many things high school running backs don't have to do that we have to teach them," Magee noted. "It's not just pass catching, either. Blocking, making the right reads, making one cut and going, all those things have to be worked on and improved."
One of the major points of emphasis of WVU's fall camp will be the development of depth. Keeping Slaton's carries to a manageable level, rather than the 25+ he routinely receives, could help him be more effective at the end of what promises to be a grueling season. While there probably won't be a great number of carries available for any of the backup group this year, the opportunity to play in some situations and build a resume for the future are certainly up for grabs.
While West Virginia's coaches are loath to identify anyone's position on the depth chart (head coach Rich Rodriguez said it's a waste of time at this point), the work put in and progress made by those competing for carries this fall is certainly of great interest, and is a building block for the battle which will continue this summer and fall.
Spring practice yields progress, but race still underway for backups at running back