Looking Out For No. 2

While things are as secure as possible at the top of the depth chart at running back for WVU, position coach Chris Beatty is hoping a reliable back-up to Noel Devine will emerge during fall camp.

"We need a guy to step up so we don't always have to put Jock [Sanders] back there or put Tavon [Austin] back there. We want them guys to be able to focus on their deals [at receiver]," Beatty said.

"We know we can put them back there and we're going to get them carries, but at the same time, you want a No. 2 that can sit back and be the No. 2, so that when Noel comes out, we don't have to move a bunch of people around."

The primary candidates could be Shawne Alston or Daquan Hargrett. Each offers strength in different areas.

Alston, the true sophomore, had a solid spring by showing his ability as a downhill runner that offers some of the power the Mountaineers like from Ryan Clarke with a bit more speed in situations where he breaks clear.

Hargrett is another small, agile speedster in the mold of Devine and Sanders that is apt to make the big play, but lacks the strength of Alston between the tackles.

In the end, Beatty believes the players themselves will help sort out the battle to back up Devine with their performances in fall camp, which starts Aug. 7.

"It's big for them to continue the momentum they have from the spring," Beatty said.

"They'll narrow it down themselves. We'll find out pretty quick who steps out among that group. Hopefully, they'll all do well, but there will be somebody that makes it a little bit easier choice for us. That's the way it always seems to be, that somebody kind of steps out ahead of everybody else. That's kind of what I expect. We'll see who it is and then go from there."

While Beatty is rather secure in having one of the country's top scoring threats in Devine at his disposal, he hopes to see offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen utilize the small, speedy running back in some different ways this fall.

"He's feeling good about running routes and doing some of those things he hasn't been asked to do in the past in the passing game," Beatty said of Devine. "For him, I think that's the big thing, to be able to do things without the ball necessarily in his hands. That's one of the things we've wanted to work on."

The added duties for Devine reflect what has been a growing trust between the senior-to-be and the West Virginia coaching staff over the past few years. Beatty said his relationship with the Ft. Myers, Fla., native has never been stronger and that he expects Devine to have another spectacular season to close out his college career.

"Noel is one of those guys that has to get to know you and get to trust you a little bit, and I think he's gotten to where he trusts us as a staff," Beatty said. "As a position coach, in general, I think he's gotten that way."

"I think he's gotten better every year at a different facet in his game. This year, there are some things we're hoping to continue to build on and make him the best player he can be for us, and hopefully in the future for his career, too."

Making Devine a threat outside of the backfield could continue to open things up for Mullen's offense, which has a "problem" many college coaches surely envy -- having several playmakers on offense who merit several touches each.

Beatty said one of the points of emphasis the coaching staff has established through the summer for the upcoming season is to ensure one of those playmakers, Austin, gets the ball a bit more often than he did as a true freshman a season ago.

"There is no question that as a group, we didn't do a good job of getting Tavon the ball. He needs to get the ball a bunch. He's as good as there is anywhere, so he's got to get the ball," Beatty said.

"For us to be successful, we've got certain guys that need to get touches, and we need to have ways to guarantee they get touches -- not just through a progression in the pass game or what have you. We've kind of tried to approach that in the offseason. I think Coach Mullen has done a good job of it, and we've all kind of had our little input to it. But we can't go out of a game and have Tavon have two touches. That's not smart on our part."

"Everybody is going to get their [touches]. Tyler Urban is going to get some. Ryan Clarke is going to get some. Will Johnson is going to get some. But they get theirs within the flow of the game. You have some guys that probably need to get it more than everybody else. And that's what you fight for."

With all that being said, Beatty said the general emphasis going into fall camp will be the same as it is almost every year -- working on ball security and making sure the players are comfortable in the offensive system.

An ability to show strength in both of those areas could take a younger back like Alston or Hargrett a long way towards earning the back-up job. Those who struggle could be relegated to less glamorous duties.

"You want to see how much everybody has improved, and that's a big thing, as far as understanding the system and some of the things we tweaked in the spring," Beatty said.

"You always want to make sure the young guys are able to assimilate what we're trying to do. It's going to be one of those things where you've got to hurry up and pick it up, or you're going to be on the scout team and redshirting. We'll see how quickly they pick things up."

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