2012 WVU Football Unit Previews: Running Backs

Shawne Alston is eager to prove he can carry the load against defenses that are better than Clemson. Which is pretty much all of them, really.

Just as with the majority of the offense, WVU's situation at running back is pretty well settled. Last year's top backs, Shawne Alston, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie all return and should improve behind a fortified offensive line and a passing attack that figures to draw the focus of opposing defenses. Although Garrison missed last year's Orange Bowl win and all of spring practice with a torn ACL, he is back and participating in fall camp and should figure into running backs coach Robert Gillespie's plans going forward---assuming he can regain last year's form that resulted in him leading all Mountaineer runners as a true freshman.

Even if Garrison does come back at 100%, Alston seems to have gained a stranglehold on the starting gig in this, his senior year. After being hampered with injuries and buried on the depth chart behind Noel Devine and, to an extent, Ryan Clarke during his first few years in Morgantown, Alston is fully healthy and ready to show Mountaineer fans that he can handle more than the role of a short-yardage back. Buie, who started last year's Marshall game, also figures to push for meaningful carries. Although he struggled early last year with injuries and some minor fumbling issues, he had a fantastic Orange Bowl, highlighted by the heady play where he rolled over a hapless Clemson tackler and kept going for a big first down to set up one of WVU's first touchdowns. If he doesn't come back improved and hungry, I'll be shocked.

While running back depth was a concern for the Mounties last year, it remains an issue this year as well. Clearly, Holgorsen and Gillespie would prefer their stable of running backs look more like my fantasy team (okay, or at least the Army All-American team) than my winless intramural team where I was the only um..."running back". But scholarship back Roshard Burney didn't qualify academically and his classmate Torry Clayton left the team after just a few weeks of fall camp, leaving only preferred walk-on D'vontis Arnold as the sole freshman running back. Arnold, from Miramar, Florida (seriously, thank you Damon Cogdell, for sending us all of your best players), has been fairly impressive so far and seems capable of filling in if any of the veterans go down with injury---that is, if Arnold doesn't push them for playing time to begin with.

Maybe the bigger concern is the fullback position (Holgorsen calls them A Backs and B Backs, but I can't remember which is which, so I'm just going with the standard nomenclature), where only Ryan Clarke returns, and is backed up by converted linebacker Donovan Miles. At times last year, the offense featured two fullbacks and a tailback lined up in the diamond formation in an effort to help with pass protection. Hopefully the offensive line has improved to the point where using two blocking backs isn't necessary, because if Clarke or Miles gets hurt, next up on the depth chart is a tackling dummy named Steve that was manufactured in Texas. Steve weighs about 400 lbs, but since he is attached to a blocking sled, his lateral movement is somewhat hampered. Let's just hope the line can protect Geno and Clarke and Miles stay healthy so Steve doesn't have to suit up.

I truly expect to see an improved running game this fall. I think all three veterans will be improved, and I think better line play and a deadly passing game will open more holes up font. Nobody is going to confuse us with Navy or Georgia Tech---or even RichRod's spread option WVU teams---but I think we will be dangerous enough to help balance what might be the nation's best passing attack.

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