Staying Confident

An already talent-rich Mountaineer backfield only added even more weapons in the offseason, but the additional competition has done little to dissuade the confidence of one of the team's young reserve running backs.

Rising sophomore Mark Rodgers will certainly have to impress the WVU coaching staff in the upcoming fall cap if he hopes to see as much playing time as he did as a freshman last year.

Rodgers played in all 13 of West Virginia's games and had 15 carries on the year in more than 60 plays of game-action. He also returned more kickoffs (22) than any other member of the team.

But competition in both areas will be steep this season. In addition to the returning fleet-footed duo of Noel Devine and Jock Sanders, Rodgers will also have to fight for carries with true freshman Tavon Austin.

In short-yardage situations, WVU's springtime experiments with Ryan Clarke and Jordan Roberts may mean even more running backs work their way into the rotation.

But Rodgers, who has been taking his reps with the second-team offense in 7-on-7 drills this summer, remains confident in his ability to contribute to the Mountaineer offense.

"You need a lot of confidence, especially when you have people competing with you and wanting your job," Rodgers said "You'd better have the right mindset going into camp."

"I feel like I'm going to be a better player this year overall."

The reason Rodgers feels that way may come from the fact that this summer has been his first chance to have a full offseason to work on his game in Morgantown. That has led to gains in both strength and knowledge of the WVU offense.

"I've pushed myself this whole summer to just stay focused, and it's working out well for me," said the Lawndale, Calif., native. "My goal was to get to 180 (pounds), and I'm at 175 right now."

"I'm still working on it. (The summer) ain't over. That's it as far as weight, but I'm just working on my cutting and doing better in my drills. I'm taking it more seriously, and just getting better every day."

The gain in weight is considerable for a smaller player like the 5-foot-9 Rodgers, who played a season ago at 167 pounds.

Added strength may help him and the rest of the running backs pass protect for quarterback Jarrett Brown, an area that may receive extra emphasis with an inexperienced offensive line blocking for the backfield.

"Weight helps out (with blocking) a lot, but as far as technique, that's everything," Rodgers said.

While summer 7-on-7 drills may not help as much with that blocking technique, it does give Rodgers and the rest of the running backs a chance to work on their skills at making moves and eluding tackles in the open field.

Possessing a better grasp of the West Virginia offense has helped the sophomore be able to react more quickly and instinctively in drills.

"7-on-7, I try to take advantage of it," Rodgers said. "I try to have a plan before every play to just look at the defense and know how the whole offense fits together and every little thing."

"I'm much more comfortable (in the offense). I'm not thinking as much. I'm just playing. When the play gets called, I know what to do and I try to make a play out of it."

With the progress he has made this summer, there is reason Rodgers has confidence in his abilities heading into his second season. He expressed little worry about the potential struggle for playing time.

"(I'll play) wherever the coaches want me to fit," he said. "I think we're all going to compete and do well."

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