For really the first time since 2007, when Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt, Noel Devine and Pat White were in the West Virginia backfield, the strength of this year’s offense could come from its runners.
The Mountaineers return two of its top four ball carriers in Andrew Buie
and Dustin Garrison
, and the coaches worked hard on the recruiting trail to bring in at mid-semester a talented pair of runners in Dreamius Smith
and Wendell Smallwood
. Those four guys will give Coach Dana Holgorsen something he can lean on until he figures out who his quarterback and wide receivers are.
“Probably the strength of where we are right now is the running back position,” Holgorsen admitted. “That is where all of our production is returning.”
Buie eclipsed the 100-yard mark twice last year, including gaining a career-high 207 yards during a big win at Texas, and finished the season with a team-best 851 yards and seven touchdowns. Garrison was the team’s No. 1 running back in 2011, producing 742 yards and scoring six touchdowns, including a 291-yard, two-TD effort in a win against Bowling Green.
Smith, a JC transfer from Butler Community College, and Smallwood, a 194-pound speedster from Eastern Christian (Md.) Academy, will give new West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider two more options to consider.
“I’m excited,” Seider said. “They are all competing. They seem like a great group; nobody is selfish and everybody is cheering each other on, which is always encouraging.”
Seider is used to working with a crowded backfield. Last year at Marshall, a trio of Seider runners combined to gain 1,617 yards and score 18 touchdowns for the Herd.
“I dealt with that last year,” he noted. “I had three freshmen and they all rotated every series. If one wasn’t cheering for the other then he didn’t get in that next series because we all have to have each other’s back. In this league you get pounded a lot so we want to keep those guys encouraging each other, especially with a couple of the new guys in there pushing each other.”
Seider likes what he’s seen so far from his running backs, particularly Smith, an older guy who possesses a rare combination of size (215 pounds) and athleticism.
“Our bigger guys have got a little more athleticism than our smaller guys – in a good way,” Seider said. “At the same time, our smaller guys run like they are bigger guys. Regardless of who is in, it’s still going to be the same play.
“With Dreamius being a bigger guy he is going to be able to fall forward for more yardage than some of the smaller guys, which is exciting,” Seider continued. “You’ve got a chance to put a game away in your four-minute offense and you’ve got a back like him that you can hand the ball off to, so that’s exciting.”
Meanwhile, Buie has played in 24 career games in Holgorsen’s offense and it shows, says Seider.
“You can just tell that he has played,” the coach noted. “You can see his experience and he knows the offense. He has been great for me … him and Dustin. It’s like having an extra coach with me in the (meeting) room.”
Seider has been getting a crash course on Holgorsen’s system ever since he arrived a couple of weeks ago, just two days before the start of spring practice.
“There are a lot of similarities with what we did,” Seider said. “I’ve just got to get the terminology down. There are certain things that are coached a little different than how it was coached down there, which is good, because any time you can continue to learn as a coach that’s what I’m excited about. You may run zone right but zone right may be taught a little differently up here than it was down there. I’m just trying to become a better coach and a better student of the game.”
For now, Seider says he wants to see improvement from all of his runners in all facets of their games, including catching the ball out of the backfield, which could be more of a possibility this year if a young and inexperienced receivers corps struggles early.
“Every day is a work in progress,” he said. “Dreamius has got really good ball skills and Dustin has got good ball skills. They’ve just got to continue to work on the finer points of things – just keeping their hands together and not letting the ball get below their eyes. I’m just coaching those guys up on those aspects so they can be more valuable coming out of the backfield and not just running the ball.”
If by land or by air, West Virginia’s runners could be where Holgorsen ultimately chooses to go this fall when he needs to keep the sticks moving.