Crux of Competition

The issue of depth on West Virginia's football team has been the subject of much conversation over the past few years, but there's one position heading into the 2014 season that isn't beset by that problem.

It's no mystery that the running back position is the deepest in terms of both raw numbers and players with the potential to get on the field in 2014. From the players who could be in the spotlight carrying the ball to those that will block and perhaps be a bigger part of the passing game, WVU looks to be stacked in the backfield.

Pose such an observation to Mountaineer assistant coach JaJuan Seider, though, and you won't get a satisfied smile or a laid-back answer. He acknowledges the talent that is there, but he still went through the spring stressing areas for improvement -- things that will likely determine the pecking order in the backfield.

"From the beginning of the spring, we talked about being better at picking up protection. You can always get better at it," said Seider, who doesn't require any prodding to speak his mind. "The biggest thing we want to do, though,is be tough, be physical, and be accountable in every situation."

Seider's last sentence covers a lot of ground, but it's an important factor that was missing at times last year, at least in his view. He wants players that can not only make highlight plays, but ones that can grind out yardage when necessary. The toughness factor extends even further, covering not only the physical but also the mental aspects of play.

"We are going to make big plays," he explained matter-of-factly. "But are we going to get the third and one when we need to? Are we going to finish forward? Our job was to be more physical coming out of the spring, and I think we accomplished that. I'm pleased and proud with that. And now it helps with the competition."

There's no doubt that August is going to be a gritty fight for playing time. But the competition that just ended with the Gold-Blue game won't be on hiatus until then. New NCAA rules which allow for player-coach contact and video review over the summer months will also play a part. During that time, Seider will review spring practice work with his players, along with dabs of last year's performances, in an attempt to teach in a different manner.

"The summer access is huge Now you can watch with a coach. There's nothing like seeing your own self on film. Every rep matters. We are going to go back through it and you have to start gearing toward a pecking order," he said of the depth chart decisions to come. "They know that. And camp will be starting before you know it. How much more can you push? How much more can you carry over?"

The competition isn't just crowded at the primary ball carrying spots, where Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood, Dreamius Smith, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are all fighting. (Some of that will be relieved with Smallwood's play at slot receiver.) There's also the fullback\tight end\slot position, where Cody Clay, Garrett Hope and Elijah Wellman all stood out during the spring. That trio showed the ability to get down the field to catch passes, opening up the option of more than just a quick flip in the flat. Their production gives Seider and the offensive staff more decisions to make, but also provides more options for them as they craft game plans to take advantage of the wealth of talent in the backfield.

Like the quarterback position, it figures that Seider will have that pecking order finalized, or nearly so, by the first week or so of fall camp. With the need to get familiar with the starter at QB, the need to have the top players running as many reps as possible with each other to build the continuity that was sorely lacking a year ago. The groundwork which was laid this spring, combined with the work this summer, will likely provide most, if not all of the answers, by the second week of practice.

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