Running back may well be the best apportioned position on the team as West Virginia enters spring football practice. With a nice mix of proven talent and some exciting newcomers, new position coach Tony Dews has a comfort zone from which he can begin operations.
We're not going to go overboard on that evaluation, though, and we continue to use the following scale to group players who will be on hand for spring drills.
Starter: Players with established Division I starting experience
Contributor: Players with significant backup time on the field on offense or defense
Unproven: Those with only special teams experience or minimal playing time
STARTERS: Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy both easily earn top performance evaluations heading into the spring. Both had injuries that led to missed snaps and playing time in 2016, but when healthy the duo could be the top pair in the conference. Crawford's 1,177 yards far outpaces McKoy's 472, but they average 7.2 and 6.4 yards per carry, respectively, and were clearly top tier talent that could play for just about any school in the country. McKoy might again take a back seat in terms of starting, as Crawford is a senior, but there's zero drop-off when he comes into the game.
BACKUPS: It's tempting to put Martell Pettaway into the above category, given his monster game against Iowa State. However, again, we're erring on the side of caution, so he gets the backup tag at the moment. There's no knock intended with that evaluation, though. His goal in the spring will be to continue to build on his consistency, and given what he's shown so far, that could be attainable.
UNPROVEN: Freshman Tevin Bush is already on campus, and he has excited observers with his highlight video from his high school career. He could give WVU a different type of threat, one of the quick strike slasher, but he'll enter the spring far behind the three established players. Transfer Lorenzo Dorr and redshirt sophomores Brady Watson and Jashawn Banks, both walk-ons, will have the chance to show if they can compete for a spot on the travel squad as well -- and that's not a small thing.
There's a clear division between the three backs at the top of the depth chart and the four underneath, so getting at least one of the latter group up in contact with the top three is a definite goal of spring. As WVU has seen time and again through recent seasons, it needs at least three, and sometimes four, running backs to carry the load in an ever-increasing ground attack. While the Mountaineers are in as good shape as anyone in the country in terms of returning ability, it needs to get another player or two ready to participate this fall.
Also under the microscope will be Dews, who will be mentoring running backs for the first time in his two-decade coaching career. There's no reason he can't do a good job, but there's also no denying that this will be an adjustment. Mastering the minutiae of any position is a difficult task, and although he has a good deal of experience on his side, there's always the question of just how tuned in he can be in his first year at a new spot. It will be a learning experience for him, but the hope is that he can bring fresh eyes, and perhaps a different perspective, to the oversight of the position.
There's still more for everyone to accomplish, even those at the top of the depth chart. Receiving skills can be improved, and there's also the question of modifications to WVU's offensive plans, which were hinted at recently. It that involves, for example, more runs out of power formations, that drives a corresponding tweak of skills and points of emphasis for the runners. There's a lot to assimilate and groove over the short 15 practice sessions, but that has to happen if the backs are to perform as they are expected to this fall.
Previously In The Spring Series: