WVU football: Backfield depth not a problem
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - At the end of a preseason camp that most thought would sort out who would start at running back at West Virginia, it would seem the many practices did not find a way to separate Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith as much as they found a way to combine the two.
"They've had packages with me and Charles in the backfield and they motion me out and keep him in the backfield or motion him out and keep me in the backfield," Smith said, "and every time we do that, it seems a big play happens."
It happened twice last week in a brief part of practice open to the media.
Sims, the transfer from the University of Houston, was paired with Smith, the transfer from Butler Community College. One time, Sims motioned from the left of the quarterback to the right side of the line of scrimmage. Sims, lined up right of the quarterback, took the handoff and slashed left.
Later, Smith started on the quarterback's left and motioned left and was an extra blocker when Sims, to the quarterback's right, ran to the left with the handoff.
"Everybody that we consider athletes - people who are great with the ball in their hands - we're going to sit there and scheme up ways to get those guys the ball within our offense and we're going to make sure they get used every way possible," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.
So if the Mountaineers are short on inside receivers, they can use two true running backs to put their best five skill players on the field. WVU still seeks balance on offense, and may need running backs more than normal because of the new starter at quarterback, but that doesn't necessarily limit them to running the ball more.
Head Coach Dana Holgorsen, who was Sims' offensive coordinator in 2009 at Houston, said Sims can play outside receiver, but Dawson said Sims could be the team's best inside receiver. Smith said he's motioned out to inside receiver to handle screen passes.
More and more, the coaches find ways to make use of those two, as well as juniors Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison and freshman Wendell Smallwood.
"I've heard this is the greatest depth at running back we've had in years," Smith said. "We're taking advantage of it. If one person can't go, we've got four more. One's going to hop in and take over with what he can do."
Smith's reality is not the perception he had when the Mountaineers started pitching their program to him at Butler.
There was a time when Smith thought WVU was a passing team and not the right place for a running back who averaged 7.6 yards and scored 26 touchdowns across 220 carries in two years in junior college.
"But then I realized what the game is actually turning to," the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Smith said. "Scouts like to see backs who get out in a receiver's position and catch balls, who get out and catch screens, who run routes. I knew that'd benefit me in the long run, so I decided to take advantage and hop on.
"I realized they're going to give talent the ball. If you have talent outside at receiver, they're going to get the ball outside. If you have talent in the backfield, they're going to find ways to get them the ball."
What the Mountaineers have found is that Sims and Smith aren't much different. Sims is an inch taller and a few pounds lighter. Smith has the reputation of an inside runner, Sims as an all-around player. WVU nevertheless wants similarly skilled players and those players have come to see it's not a forced fit.
"He can lower his shoulder as well," Smith said. "I know people expect that out of me because of the bigness I have, but he can do it also. I just know that if he gets in the open field, he's going to get that speed and he's gone."
Sims was the only player in the country in 2009 with at least 600 yards receiving and 600 yards rushing and he's likely to maintain that versatility upon reuniting with Holgorsen while adding special teams duty. Smith, meanwhile, is considered to be limited to bruising runs between the tackles.
"Well," Dawson said, "if they do pigeon hole him, they're making a huge mistake. If that kid gets in the open field, he'll outrun you as quick as anybody."
Smith has only been slowed slightly making the transition from junior college. The pace and the intensity of the weight room were new to him when he arrived in January, but so too were the elements that were a part of spring football and preseason practice. Smith rather liked that.
"We practiced every day at Butler," he said. "We had two-a-days and three-a-days and we were always in pads. I actually like these practices more than I did at Butler."
Smith missed a few days with a quad injury, but finished practice as a full participant.
"Other than that," he said, "it's the healthiest I've been since I steeped foot in Butler."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.