Maximum Utilization

West Virginia's offensive plans for 2005 include some innovative methods of getting the talented stable of Mountaineer backs onto the field as much as possible, but a lot more goes into it than just sending a guy that's used to lining up behind the quarterback out to a different position on the field.

With a loaded depth chart in the backfield, WVU running backs coach Calvin Magee is faced with a pleasant problem – finding enough work to keep all of his charges happy. And true to the adaptable nature of the Mountaineer attack, Magee, along with head coach Rich Rodriguez and the rest of the Mountaineer offensive staff, have some ideas in mind. With as many as six quality backs available, Magee is already scheming to get several of them on the field at the same time.

"We are going to play some of our backs at the H (fourth receiver), because we already have them doing some of the same things out of our two-back and three-receiver sets," Magee said. "That will be a natural transition. I think Jason Colson can play a whole bunch of positions, because he's a great athlete. He understands that and accepts that. That's not to say that he won't be the starting tailback, but it's just that he will most likely be one of those starting four receivers too. I think it's going to be a good transition, because he and the other backs have already bought into the idea."

Magee, who also mentions sophomore Pernell Williams as a candidate for that sort of double duty, also envisions more two back sets with two superbacks in the WVU offense. In that manner, West Virginia might often have three running backs on the field at the same time.

As noted previously, however, there's more to it than just telling Colson to line up in the slot. Time must be taken to work with the players at their new spots, and make sure they understand everything that goes with the position.

"It's going to be a joint effort, because there are times when I'm going to have to be working on running back stuff and they need to work on receiver drill work," Magee said of the process, which he will share with wide receivers coach Butch Jones. "I'll get a little bit of receiving work during my drills but if the receivers are doing things [in the passing game] I'll make sure they get over there to work with them."

One of the biggest advantages to the new changes is the fact that moving players around on the field to different spots, rather than running substitutes in and out, could keep opposing defensive coordinators in the dark. Defensive coaches often base their own substitutions and defensive calls on the personnel sent onto the field by the offense. For example, if a coach sees two extra wideouts come on, he might automatically send and extra pass rusher and defensive back onto the field. However, with WVU's strategy this year, he won't get that warning in advance. A running back might line up in the backfield on one play and flank out wide the next, providing little indication of the type of play being run before the ball is snapped. And while all teams have tendencies – preferred plays they run out of certain formations – this personnel flexibility could wind up being a big plus for WVU this fall.

Before that all comes together, however, there's the little matter of teaching the backs to catch the ball, and of coming off the line from a different spot to do so. Conventional wisdom says that's two different skill sets, but Magee looks at it in a much simpler manner.

"I guess the experts would say that there is [a difference], but to me it's still football," said Magee, a collegiate All-America selection. "It's still running and catching the ball – it's just coming from a different position. You just run down there and get it.

"I don't mean to brag, but I had some very good god-given hands. As a coach, it took me a while to understand how to teach it because to me it was just catching the ball."

After studying the problem for a while, Magee did settle on one factor that trumps all others when it comes to learning how to catch the ball well.

"I came to find out it's all in the eyes," Magee said of the key item. "You have to concentrate on it. It starts with hand-eye coordination. It is a natural thing, but it can be worked on, and you can develop good hands with a lot of hard work. Even the kid that has rock hands, they still can improve if they improve their eyes and their concentration."

So who, among the Mountaineer backs, is the furthest along in this area? Not surprisingly, it's the two players who are getting the longest looks in the slot.

"Colson and Williams surprised me some because they were such naturals at doing it," Magee analyzed. "Pernell had a little bit of work to do with his hands, but he ran good routes and isn't afraid to go in there and get it. The whole thing was just natural with Colson. He has soft hands, and great hand-eye coordination. Pernell didn't catch a lot of balls in high school, and probably never had to, other than on toss sweeps, so he's been working at it, and getting better at it."

Opponents might be expecting WVU to ride the strength of their running backs in 2005, especially in the early part of the season as they break in a new starter at quarterback. The WVU coaching staff is fully aware of that, so don't be surprised to see the backs get the ball in manners other than the traditional handoff on an inside zone play or a sweep. West Virginia has weapons at its disposal in the backfield, and like any good attack unit, plans to utilize them in as many different ways as possible.

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