Recently, Rushel Shell said he is trying to be the best back in the Big 12. A good goal to set, but is it a plausible benchmark? The redshirt junior will most likely split time with Wendell Smallwood and others in the backfield, even though head coach Dana Holgorsen has already said Smallwood will take a lot of snaps at slot receiver. While the workload might be an issue in helping him reach top status, it still figures the opportunities for Shell to shine will be present, and he sounds confident.
“I feel like I've got all the right things, and it’s just up to me how hard I want to work, and how hard I want to run,” Shell said. The back's 788 rushing yards led the team a year ago, and ranked fifth in the Big 12 for total rushing yards; WVU averaged 182.8 rush yards per game, while Shell netted 4.5 yards per carry and a team-best seven scores on the ground.
Last season Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine led the league in rushing yards with 1,713 total - an impressive accomplishment by a freshman. But another player hasn’t even rushed for 1,500 yards in the league since Terrance Ganaway (1,547) in 2011. So Shell would need to double his output from a season ago to come close to that total, and as confident Shell sounded in saying he believes he can be the conference's best, Holgorsen had other thoughts about his back.
“The perception about him being a dominant force is far greater that what reality is,” Holgorsen said. “He is a big, physical, determined kid that doesn’t play like it all the time.” In Shell’s defense, Holgorsen said he knows he has it in him, but needs to show a little bit more of everything.
“By no means am I disappointed,” Holgorsen continued. “But I want to see him be dominant player every time we give him the ball.”
At 5-11 and 220 pounds, Shell has the size to knock down opposing tacklers, but obviously has not always shown it during camp. Holgorsen probably said this hoping to fire up his back, and until Shell proves he can be an every down guy, his personal goals of top back in the league might be lofty.
The lightning and thunder combination that Shell and Smallwood have will help produce sheer yardage numbers. But unless the team can find a dominant running back to crash between the tackles the offense will suffer. Shell has shown the ability to run hard. His best performance of 2014 was against Iowa State - the last game of the regular season. Now, perhaps with some added motivation from the coaching staff, he has been challenged to find additional success.