Lack of depth and breadth

If West Virginia's recent dismissal of tailbacks Pernell Williams and Tyler Benoit did anything, it showcased the futility of post-spring depth charts and the ambiguity of a program's position numbers.

The Mountaineers, once rich in backfield profundity and ability, have lost three tailbacks in the past nine months – leaving them with a handful of bodies heading into the fall. One piece is at least translucently clear: Frosh sensation Steve Slaton is expected to be the starter.

After that, the backfield is a mishmash of scat back speedster Jet Best, the only other pure tailback currently on the roster, and slot wideouts Jason Colson and Jeremy Bruce. Colson has a plethora of experience, having run for 1,041 career yards, but lacks the breakaway gear of Slaton. He's a reliable back, but one head coach Rich Rodriguez would rather see in a reserve role than pumping the ball into the heart of defenses 25-pllus times per game.

Bruce is obviously better utilized as a wideout and for kick returning depth and asking incoming WPIAL talent Ed Collington to do half of what Slaton did is a stretch as big as a cheshire cat's.

If wouldn't be an issue if one could guarantee Slaton would not get hurt and Best and Colson could satisfactorially combo the backup role. But remember that Slaton has played just half a season, meaning he was fresher last year than almost all the defenders he played against, and that teams are going to load the box with eight-plus players and force WVU to throw. Add in the Mountaineers' lack of surefire line depth heading into summer, and this could be a major impediment that is being largely ignored.

"Sure, we worry about it," said fullback Owen Schmitt, who could take snaps out of the tailback slot if needed. "There are not as many players there, but hopefully guys like Ed Collington can come in and make an immediate impact. There are some younger guys with talent here."

No doubt. What they lack is experience, which is what it had with Williams. West Virginia got away with that at the skill slots last season because of its schedule, and it could do the same again. But it is lacking a bulldozing back like Jason Gwaltney, which supplied a nice power punch to Slaton and still gave WVU better speed than it has with Schmitt – which is what it could have had in some form with Benoit.

"We just have to continue to work hard," said the 185-pound Best, who wants to add 10 pounds to his 5-10 frame. "I know that less players might lead to more carries to a degree. But we have to work. I feel good about it, and the incoming freshmen. We're all cool, all working together."

Which is something that obviously did not happen last year, when players did not fulfill off-field requirements. It's something difficult for Schmitt, who worked his way from Division III Wisconsin-River Falls to the starting fullback of a Sugar Bowl-winning team, to understand.

"We're just a ball club like any other team," Schmitt said. "It affects us. Some kids are fortunate to get a scholarship. Even if I hated the program, I'm still getting free schooling so why not stay with it."

Bruce agrees, noting that the real differences won't come in the summer, but in lack of reps at other slots in the fall.

"We'll have to work at tailback more," he said. "But my main position is still slot wide receiver. And while what you do on the field as far as the two positions are concerned is very different – like downfield blocking versus blocking out of the backfield and how you get the ball and handling it – the summer workouts are not that much different. So I am not missing anything. But we'll all have to work at tailback more."


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