The Kinder Garden - Stolen Spring?

Just how much has the loss of three running backs for most of the spring affected the Mountaineer offense? These and other questions pondered here.

The running back question has a two-part answer - one immediate, and one long-range.

First, the offense has obviously been hampered this spring due to the absence of Erick Phillips to knee surgery, the loss of Kay Jay Harris and Bryan Wright to concussions, and the in -and-out status of Jason colson, who has been beset by a number of bumps and bruises. With barely enough backs to fill out the depth chart (including quickly moved Dwayne Mundle from defense), the WVU offense simply hasn't been able to generate much on the ground, other than from their quarterbacks.

That allows the defense to key on the QBs running the ball, especially by rushing and blitzing aggressively. As a result, the offense has sputtered. Reasonable proof of this is that in the first week of spring, when Harris and Wright were available and Colson not yet dinged up, the offense moved the ball reasonable well.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez voiced much the same opinion, notin that "it's frustrating when you can't run your whole offense because of the tailback situation."

Looking just at the spring, this might not be a matter of concern. All four backs are expected to be back for fall practice (Phiilips' return would admittedly constitute an amazing recovery), so it's not as if the Mountaineers' cupboard is bare. However, as we look at the long-term effects, concerns begin to creep in.

First, the West Virginia coaching staff wanted to implement some new wrinkles (or reinstitute some old ones) this spring, but with the backs sidelined, it didn't make much sense to put them in. Even more than the average play, some of the new items depend on precise timing and footwork, so in order to get those down the guys that will be on the field this fall need to be getting the practice repetitions this spring.

Additionally, this spring was to be the time that Colson, Harris and Wright battled to establish their positions on the depth chart. Harris and Colson needed to show they have learned how to hit holes with the aggressiveness of Avon Cobourne or Quincy Wilson, and Wright was primed to prove that he deserved carries as well. Although each has talent, each also needed to show the consistency that's demanded of the number one superback in the WVU offense. None really got that chance.

How much will that affect WVU's offense going into the fall? Predictions at this point are probably little more than guesses, but missing half to all of spring practice can't do anything to help individual improvement or offensive continuity.

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The news isn't all bad, of course. A number of players have made nice showings during the spring. The receiver corps appears to be deeper and more competitive, as does the offensive line. There are a number of contenders for playing time in the defensive secondary, where assistant coach Tony Gibson is waiting for a fourth cornerback to separate himself form the pack and join Adam Jones, Anthony Mims and Larry Williams in the rotation. And the defensive line, while still dotted with youth among the second teamers, is showing promise of quality depth.

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A final item that caught my imagination while watching a recent spring practice was the number of injured players and their prospects of playing and contributing this year. Of course, starters and key reserves tend to have more chances to get injured, because they get more work, especially in full contact drills, during the spring. However, this year, it seems that WVU's injured list is almost totally populated with potential starters and key reserves.

In addition to the running backs mentioned, tight end Josh Bailey, safety Jahmile Addae, defensive lineman Pat Liebig, and offensive lineman Tim Brown are among those missing all or parts of the spring. Imagine a WVU team without those players this fall.

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While last year appeared to be the year of the hamstring (Vince Beamer, Larry Williams and Jules Montinar all had injuries there) this spring's was the concussion. Hopefully, WVU's injury spate came in March and April this season.

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