West Virginia entered the 2016 season looking to establish depth at the running back position, and after the emergence of Kennedy McKoy in the spring and Justin Crawford in fall camp, it appears as if the Mountaineers have been successful in doing so. Entering the first week of the season it looks as if running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider will use a three man rotation with Rushel Shell as the starter and McKoy and Crawford splitting time at the No. 2 running back position. Although Shell is atop the pecking order, both McKoy and Crawford should still see significant time as Seider said he anticipates having multiple backs in the game simultaneously, depending on the looks that Missouri's defense gives the Mountaineers.
"It depends on the flow of the game and what we feel are the best sets to attack these guys," Seider said. "It could be one back, two back, three back (which is something the Mountaineers weren't able to do at all in 2015). We're going to run the offense. There is so much uncertainty because you don't know what you're going to see. Are they going to be Missouri? Are they going to be TCU? You try to prepare for both and different ways you can attack with the similarities in what they do defensively. It all depends on the flow of the game and how we hold up."
Seider referenced TCU because Missouri brought defensive coordinator Demontie Cross on board to run a stout defense that head coach Barry Odom coached in 2015. While detailing the running back rotation Seider implied that Martell Pettaway will dress for the game but he is unsure if Pettaway will get into the game.
"No decision yet (on whether Pettaway will avoid a redshirt)," Seider said. "We're not even worried about it right now. My job is to just keep bringing him along and get him caught back up and to get him comfortable to where (the other running backs) are at. He's one of those guys who's playing catch up a little bit but he's so talented that you want to keep bringing him along. If he was here the whole summer he would probably be right in the mix. He's not far off, but you have so many reps that you have to make sure you get your main guys ready but we'll see how it goes and see where we're at."
Pettaway hasn't received the buzz that newcomers Kennedy McKoy and Justin Crawford have in the past few months, but Seider seems to like the freshman running back's potential. Earlier in the summer, upon Pettaway's arrival in late June, Seider was enamored with the speed the Michigan native displayed. But Pettaway started out behind McKoy (who arrived in the spring) and Crawford (who arrived earlier in the summer) and faced a larger learning curve entering fall camp.
Pettaway also sustained a minor injury that kept him out of a few practices earlier in camp, but he is back to 100 percent and making headway in the competition for playing time and if he continues to improve he could eventually earn a spot in the Mountaineers rotation. All indications are that he won't play in Saturday's opener, but as he becomes more comfortable with the offense Pettaway may be featured later in the season (or sooner barring an injury to one of the other three backs). However, if the running back group stays healthy, the Mountaineers may have the luxury of redshirting the talented freshman.
After providing insight into West Virginia's rotation, Seider discussed Missouri and the opportunity his backs have to showcase their abilities against one of the better defenses in the SEC.
"You have a team from another Power 5 conference - the SEC - and kids take to that challenge," Seider said. "There are a lot of variables in the game to get you excited. It makes the summer easier when you open up with a team that you have to go play and you come in with expectations. You don't have to motivate guys as much and you have a lot to prove in that room. Who's going to be the guy?"
The answer to that question could be a lot clearer on Saturday around 3:30 p.m., but for now it appears that the Mountaineers will attack the defenses with a committee-like approach as they have three capable backs. It remains to be seen if the Mountaineers have a true home run threat, something they haven't had since Noel Devine or possibly even Steve Slaton donned the gold and blue. But either way, the Mountaineers figure to be deeper than they were last season at running back, and they will enter Saturday's home opener with a stable of backs who are ready to prove themselves.