The additions of Jock Sanders and Noel Devine behind starter and All-American Steve Slaton have inflated backfield expectations and left Eddie Davis and Ed Collington out of the minds of fans, though not out of the mix at running back. The two, who combined for 92 yards on 23 carries with a long run of 20, rank just sixth and ninth, respectively, of rushers who return. So without having much experience, and with the major numbers and talent in what is considered the fastest backfield in the country, it’s little wonder people are willing to look past some players of present.
“We love to compete here at West Virginia and we all have equal opportunity to get on the field,” said Collington, a native of Pittsburgh who lead the WPIAL in rushing with 1,700 yards and 22 scores as a prep senior. “You try to take advantage. It’s a high level. I am working as hard as I can to get on the field anywhere I can.”
That might mean at slot wideout. West Virginia has made in-camp moves to shore up the lack of depth within the corps. The Mountaineers moved former defensive back Kendall Washington to receiver. The true freshman would certainly have been redshirted in the crowded secondary, said head coach Rich Rodriguez, so the move was natural, especially with non-slot receivers Wes Lyons (hamstring) and junior college transfer Alic Arnett (ankle sprain) missing recent drills because of injuries. And with slot receiver Jeremy Bruce’s impending transfer to Akron, the chances for Davis and Collington to get on the field keep improving.
Collington said there are “a few” patterns currently in the offense for the running backs/slot receivers. One basic call is for the slots to run five to six yards on an out, and they advance in complexity from there. It’s nothing daunting, and senior receiver Tito Gonzales – who understands the ordeals Davis and Collington are going through to earn time after being told as a sophomore that he might not be able to play at the I-A level – said that Rodriguez has a knack for simplifying the offense for freshmen, and adding layers to it as players progress.
That can equate to allowing newcomers to make an impact earlier than anticipated. Slaton took five games to settle in, and it’s assumed that Devine and Sanders could see action by the middle of this season, one of the reasons Collington and Davis must show more than they have in past camps. Collington, at 6-0 and 205 pounds, packs a running punch and a north-south style that no other back save Owen Schmitt can match. He carried six times for 26 yards with Slaton injured during the 38-35 Gator Bowl win over Georgia Tech.
Davis, who is more of a scat back type in the mold of Sanders, showed major improvement in spring drills and appears closer to being the season-opening backup for Slaton. The Tampa native gained 65 yards on 15 carries against Eastern Washington in second game last year before being sidelined because of injuries. At a svelte 6-0 and 180 pounds, Davis insists he can handle all the playmaking duties.
“I’m not finite at one position,” Davis said.” I did it all in high school, catching and running. I think I can again. That H (receiving) spot, in the slot, will help us get on the field. The competition is always going to be there.”
Davis missed several practices this week finishing a summer class, but will be able to fully concentrate on football for the final week of fall camp. He said the time in class has helped save his legs and stay fresh, but that he must work harder over the final 20 days before the opener to prove himself better than the incoming talent. Collington, nearing the top of his game after three years in a collegiate weight room, has not missed as much practice, though has watched the newcomers take added snaps – something that should strengthen the team as a whole since the veterans are already familiar with plays and how to execute the spread offense.
“The team is not ready to play a game yet,” Collington said. “We are in the best shape we have ever been in, but we’re not ready for a game. We are getting there. The older guys are sitting aside and letting the younger guys get reps so they can learn the plays and everything. We know it well enough to run them when we want to, but the young guys need this.
"They are picking it up good. Reps is what helps, what does it to get those plays down. I think we are all neck-and-neck and I hope they can help the team just like I am.”