In the weeks after West Virginia's Cactus Bowl victory the Mountaineers 2016 offense was dealt a huge blow when second team All-Big 12 running back Wendell Smallwood announced he would forego his senior season and enter the 2016 NFL Draft. Smallwood, who rushed for 1,519 yards and nine touchdowns in his junior season, was West Virginia's most dependable and consistent player on offense a year ago. Compounding the loss of Smallwood was the departure of sophomore running backs Jacky Marcellus and Donte Thomas-Williams. Entering the off-season the lack of depth at running back appeared to be one of the Mountaineers major concerns as Rushel Shell was the only returning back who had game experience, however WVU received a huge boost from early-enrollee Kennedy McKoy, who became one of the biggest story lines to emerge from spring practice after drawing rave reviews from running back coach JaJuan Seider. Since the conclusion of spring ball WVU has added two more running backs in Martell Pettaway and Justin Crawford, and Seider is impressed by what he has seen to this point from the new additions.
"The thing that jumped out about (Martell Pettaway) is, you can tell right away that he's been running track," Seider said. "He looks really good right now, he has great feet. He hasn't really been thrown in the fire yet but just watching the way he moves around, he has a quick burst up the field and he has been timed around 10.6 or 10.7 in the 100-meters during track. I didn't know he was that fast. That exceeded my expectation for him, especially with the size he has."
Seider is also impressed by the intangibles that former junior college All-American Justin Crawford has displayed.
"He's not afraid to lead and get on guys if he sees guys slacking or who need to be picked up," Seider said about Crawford. "That's the thing that jumps out about him right away. He's different, in a good way. He has a good, quick burst. He's got quick feet and he can make people miss."
The newcomers are somewhat limited in the work they can actually put in until fall camp starts, but Seider said it can still be a valuable learning experience that can prepare them for August.
"It's going to be exciting to get to work with those guys full-time because they don't know right from left right now," Seider admitted. "They don't get to watch film right now so they don't know how to make corrections yet. The older guys kind of push them and show them the way. That's the best learning tool from the summer anyway."
The opportunity to go through practice and get real reps was highly beneficial to Kennedy McKoy, who is the clear-cut No.2 running back behind senior Rushel Shell, and Seider spoke about what he needs to do to build on his impressive spring.
"(McKoy) needs to get out his comfort zone. He needs to let it hurt. I constantly push him to push himself, even when he's conditioning. Don't strand in the middle of the pack, let it hurt and let it burn. That's the way he's going to get that second gear. Everything else is right there for that kid. If he can carry over what he did in the spring into in the fall there's no doubt in my mind he's going to make a big impact on this team early. I told Rushel (Shell) early, 'he's good enough to go out there and play in game one from what he did in the spring.' I think (McKoy) is game ready and the show's not too big for him. He's not afraid to block, he catches the ball well, he has good retention, so everything you want out of a player you get out of that kid."
The Mountaineers have roughly a month before fall camp starts and Seider hopes to have Petteway and Crawford game ready as well, saying he feels that the Mountaineers will need to depend on all four backs in the 2016 season.
"I think we need to get them all ready to play. We were very fortunate to not have any injuries between Rushel and Wendell last year. I'm going to get them all ready. It's a long season and we have a tough schedule," Seider said about the need to develop depth among his unit.