Smith Still Adjusting at Wide Receiver

A quick look at the running back depth chart after last season revealed some talent that wasn't seeing the field very often.

That untapped ability was primarily in the body of Cassel Smith, who got only 12 carries for 32 yards in five games worth of action in 2001.

Smith, knowing that he wasn't going to see much more action at that position in 2002, decided to do what he could to get on the field. He still speaks wistfully of running back on occasion, but knows that the Mountaineers are well manned at that spot. So, he went to the coaching staff with a request.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself -- I believe I can make all types of plays. I went to the coach and told him that," said the confident junior. "We're lacking some players at receiver right now, so put me out there and let's see if we can help the team out. That's what I'm trying to do."

The change of position has been a mixed bag for Smith. While some things, such as blocking, are easier, there are still many nuances of the wide receiver spot that he is working to master.

"Blocking -- it's much easier here at receiver. At running back you have to plant your feet and wait for a guy to explode into you. At receiver, it's more like you are shadowing the guy. It's definitely easier."

Throw in the fact that Smith is more often taking on safeties and cornerbacks than linebackers and defensive ends, and it's easy to see the appeal of that change in assignment. However, some of the new duties are much harder to master. Smith lists the mental side of the game as the top challenge at this point.

"Right now, I'm gradually getting it together, but I'm still making a lot of mental errors. There's a lot going on at receiver compared to running back. I've played running back my whole life, so that came pretty easily, but now at a brand new position I've got to watch more film, and study, and do stuff like that."

Smith, who maintained his playing weight at 195 for the move outside, has already demonstrated some big plays this spring. Smith has made several leaping catches during end of practice scrimmages and has also, as one might expect, show the ability to take a big hit and hang on to the ball.

As a former running back, Smith also exhibits a running back's mentality once he makes a catch. His eyes light up when he talks about getting into the open field. After all, the goal of a running back is to get the ball into the secondary, and Smith figures he's getting a head start on that when he catches the ball instead of getting it handed to him five yards behind the line of scrimmage.

"That's what I like about receiver, and that's a big advantage for me. Once I get the ball, I don't have to worry about getting across the line of scrimmage, because I'm already in the secondary. All I have to do is make one guy miss, and maybe I can go the distance."

Other than the mental aspect, Smith struggles the most with reciever coach Steve Bird's frequent instructions to "get upfield". Bird wants the receivers to stop making moves and cuts after receptions. His goal is for the receiver to catch the ball, pivot upfield and gop without any wasted moves. For a converted running back, that's a tough task.

"I told Coach Bird that's going to be hard, because I can't control that. That is just natural instinct for me," Smith said with a rueful smile. "I'm a running back, and that's part I told him I understand what he wants, but I'm also looking at down and distance. If it's third and one, I'll get up the field and get the yard, but if it's third and ten I'm going to try to make a play."

Bird understands that adjusting Smith's style might take a while, but he has been pleased with Smith's progress to date.

"Cassel has really come on. If he continues to progress at the same rate he has so far, he's going to help us at receiver."

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