Pulling the Trigger?

Most fans are viewing this weekend's match-up with Division I-AA Eastern Washington as little more than a tune-up for Maryland. It might not even be that. But it could be a chance for reserves to see key time and for two players in particular to begin to supply depth where it's badly needed.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez has already stated that West Virginia will do everything it can to win the game. But, objectively, the talent edge is so great that the Mountaineers should coast. The question then becomes if and when the sixth-year head coach's "secure-the-win first" mantra eases into playing more people, especially at tailback, where Rodriguez has already expressed concern about a lack of bodies.

WVU offers proven runners in starter Steve Slaton, fullback Owen Schmitt and senior Jason Colson. Beyond that, there are promising players like Ed Collington and Eddie Davis, though the two have yet to see the field. That could change this week, if for no other reason than to give the newbies a look in a game environment. Not every player can pull a Slaton and be inserted against a top team and immediately perform.

The major rub on Collington – an explosive, 6-0, 200-pounder – is that his ankle, which was sprained in the first week of fall practice, has yet to totally heal. It's hanging around 95 percent. The concern with Davis is that, like many players this fall, he was shuffled between multiple positions. The Tampa native manned the slot wideout position at the beginning of fall camp, then slid into the backfield when the depth there was less than expected. He has just started to pick up the offense as needed, and the duo have challenged each other this week to see who gets on the field first.

"I feel very comfortable with the offense now," Collington said. "I am used to the speed and playing it. Now the only thing is my ankle. It is getting better, but it's not 100 percent. The coaches are waiting for me to be 100 percent to see what I can do. I can't really push off of it. It's a cutting thing. The precise cuts are not there, but it's progressing. By the end of this week or next it could be full go."

Collington, out of Penn Hills High in Pittsburgh, led the WPIAL – the nation's largest, and among the best, prep conferences – in rushing with 1,700 yards as a senior. He scored 22 touchdowns as an upperclassman and averaged 9.2 yards per carry and led PHHS to three consecutive semifinal appearances in his career.

Davis, originally thought to be a pure receiver or secondary player, took visits to Rutgers and West Virginia before choosing the latter. The 5-11, 185-pounder is a lighter version of Collington and lacks the position experience the Keystone State native possesses. It remains to be seen if he can settle into a position, or if he will bounce around like Colson has done. Freshman Jet Best, a running back out of Palm Beach Lakes, will likely be redshirted this season.

"Everybody has to be ready to play," Collington said. "We all practice as hard as we can. If they feel any of us are ready they will put us in. If not, we will cheer our teammates on."

Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee said he would not pull the trigger prematurely, and that neither Collington nor Davis would play until the coaching staff thought they had proven their mettle in practice. Magee said he does not worry purely about Slaton's number of carries (he had 33 in the 42-10 opening game win over Marshall, one short of his career-high 34 against Pitt last season) but that the numbers of tailbacks should lead to someone emerging.

"When I feel like they have gotten to where they need to be, they will see game time," Magee said. "Right now I am figuring it out. We have so many kids that I have to find somebody. Ed (Collington) just needs to get himself all the way healthy so we can see. I am giving him reps everyday and he is steadily improving. But I don't plan anything by carries."


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