Mountaineers weighing options at RB
MORGANTOWN - Shawne Alston appears to have left little doubt about who West Virginia's No. 1 running back is after the camp portion of preseason drills.
"He's had a great camp and left the camp being the top guy," running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "Our main focus now is just to continue to keep him healthy and focused to get him prepared for the first game."
Well, that may be the main focus as far as Alston is concerned, but as for the running back corps as a whole there are plenty of other issues. But perhaps at the top of the list is this one:
Is there a chance that Dustin Garrison could be redshirted and skip the season?
"He's a tough kid and we have to make sure he's being honest with us,'' Gillespie said. "He's shown a lot of toughness, but as a staff we have to sit down with the medical staff and see what's the best thing for him.''
The issue with Garrison is, of course, his surgically repaired knee. He suffered major damage in a non-contract drill just before the Orange Bowl, had major reconstructive surgery in January and by all indications has bounced back quickly.
But two primary questions have to be answered. First, is Garrison close to the level that allowed him to lead the team in rushing as a true freshman in 2011? And if he's not, would he be better served to sit out a few weeks or the entire season, the latter option preserving a season of eligibility?
"Is he strong enough to go in there and protect himself, first of all, and is he strong enough to go in there and help us win some games?'' Gillespie wondered aloud. "He did a really good job [during camp], but we'll sit down here in the next couple of days to make a final decision on that."
Part of the equation is where West Virginia stands from a depth standpoint if Garrison doesn't play this season. If Alston is clearly the starter, then sophomore Andrew Buie is just as clearly the No. 2 if Garrison is out of the mix. But the Mountaineers used four different tailbacks last season - the three returnees and departed Vernard Roberts - and are likely to need more than two this fall.
That's why on Saturday, instead of watching Alston and Buie and Garrison run, the coaches gave most of the practice reps to two freshmen from South Florida, Torry Clayton and D'Vontis Arnold.
"[Saturday] was a day to see Torry Clayton perform, to see if a guy like D'Vontis Arnold can perform,'' Gillespie said. "Obviously we feel real good about [Alston], we know what Andrew Buie can do, we know what Garrison can do. So we wanted to see if the [freshmen] could close the gap a little bit to where if we had to do something like [redshirt Garrison] we could.
"We'll sit down and watch the film, talk about it as a staff and then go from there.''
Clayton is a fairly known quantity in that he was the only freshman scholarship running back in camp. The Mountaineers signed another, Roshard Burney, but he didn't qualify academically.
Arnold is a bit of a wild card, though. He's a walk-on, but not just a guy off the streets. He's merely among the latest in the pipeline from Miramar High School in Miami.
"He's a guy that's ready to go play if we need him to," Gillespie said. "He's a guy that has worked his way into being a guy we can trust and feel comfortable with if we have to put him in the game."
The 5-9, 185-pound Arnold had few college options, the only real one being a scholarship at Bethune-Cookman. Gillespie talked him into going the walk-on route at WVU.
"If I had five or six guys sitting back there it would have been hard for anyone to work his way through the ranks,'' Gillespie said. "But during the recruiting process I told him, 'Hey, I don't have a lot of scholarships, but if you're willing to walk on I don't have a lot of depth.' He looked at the numbers and he could do the math.''
The math was that there were only the three returnees, and one of those is fresh off of knee surgery and another (Alston) a senior. And the team only signed two backs and one was in danger of not making it.
And so now Arnold has a chance after coming from virtually nowhere in two weeks.
"He's been able to come in here and work hard,'' Gillespie said. "And now we're talking about him.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1