• By John Antonik
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  • April 10, 2011 09:41 PM
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West Virginia University offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen doesn’t care how big, small or tall his running backs are – his only concern is how productive they become.

The Mountaineers’ six returning runners – Ryan Clarke, Shawne Alston, Matt Lindamood, Trey Johnson, Daquan Hargrett and Ricky Kovatch - had a combined 169 rushing attempts for 630 yards last year.

Clarke, Alston and Lindamood were used mostly in short yardage situations or as change-of-pace runners behind starter Noel Devine, while Johnson and Hargrett got all of their game reps in mop up situations. True freshman Vernard Roberts, a wide receiver in high school, is also now working with the running backs as well. Holgorsen is still trying to figure out what he’s got at that position.

“Trey is getting better,” said Holgorsen after Saturday’s practice. “He’s the one to me that looks like he has improved. Hargrett has been consistent. Those two have been doing a good job. Vernard Roberts is a guy that we didn’t know what we had with him, because he is a high school kid, but he’s showing some pretty good things.

“The two big fullbacks – (Ricky) Kovatch and (Matt) Lindamood – those guys are playing pretty well, too. They aren’t scared to mix it up, which is exciting to see.”

West Virginia has 200-pound-plus guys and smaller, scat-back types and Holgorsen says he could care less how much they weigh or their particular body types, he just wants guys who can do the things he’s looking for on the football field.

“It comes down to the three things … it comes down to being able to be productive when you run, being able to be productive when you block and being able to be productive when you have the ball in your hands,” Holgorsen said. “Regardless if the guy weighs 160 or 260, if it’s productive it’s productive. We’ve had guys that are 185 pounds that were our best pas protectors, so they got more reps.

“We put in the three-back system so we could put a lot of backs out there. We’re not running a no-back offense here,” he said. “Those guys play more than any position on the team from the skills perspective. The more productive those guys get individually, the more reps they’re going to get.”

Robert Gillespie, the man in charge of WVU’s running backs, says he’s willing to accept mistakes right now as long as they are playing hard and playing fast.

“Hopefully two or three guys will emerge and become players this spring,” he said. “We don’t expect these guys to know it all and be perfect. They’re going to make mistakes but the encouraging thing is that they’re asking questions. Overall they are playing fast. I can live with you making a mistake as long as you play fast and move somewhere.”

Gillespie is also not too concerned with the depth chart right now.

“We have an idea of which guys can do certain things. Now we just have to figure out who goes in first. The great thing about it is we have more practices to go,” he said. “We don’t have to make a decision right now. I think that’s the part that makes these guys work hard because they know right now they have a chance to compete to be the guy.”

Holgorsen said after Saturday’s practice that the fastest way to the bench is by putting the football on the ground, something West Virginia’s runners did quite frequently last season, particularly in losses to LSU, Syracuse and Connecticut.

Holgorsen and his offensive coaches work on ball security drills religiously at the end of each practice.

The Mountaineers will resume work on Wednesday.