No decision made yet on Garrison redshirt
MORGANTOWN - Less than a week before the season begins, Dana Holgorsen still isn't sure how many running backs he will have at his disposal - not just for Saturday's opener against Marshall, but for the entire season.
That's because the status of last year's team rushing leader, Dustin Garrison, remains cloudy.
Garrison has spent the past eight months rehabilitating the knee that he injured just before West Virginia's Orange Bowl rout of Clemson. All indications are that he has progressed well and that he could play if needed.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie, however, said at the end of camp 10 days ago that Garrison might be redshirted this season to give him extra time to recover. But on Monday, Holgorsen said he and the staff have not made a decision yet.
"No, not at this point we haven't,'' Holgorsen said during his first appearance on the Big 12's weekly coaches' teleconference. "He was sore last week so we gave him a few days off. And the plan has been all along to get him to game week and then get him out there and see what happens.''
Presumably, that means that Garrison will be evaluated this week and at least a tentative decision will be made. Redshirting rules don't require a definitive answer to the question right away.
For instance, Garrison could sit out as many games as the coaches choose and then lose the redshirt at any time. Of course, the longer into the season the less chance he would expend a full year's eligibility for a partial season.
On the other hand, Garrison could also play right away and then elect to redshirt depending upon his progress. NCAA rules for a hardship waiver allow a player to apply for a medical redshirt provided he has played in no more than 30 percent of his team's games, all during the first half of the season. The NCAA rounds up 30 percent of 12 games (3.6) to four games.
So Garrison could play in as many as four of the first six games and still be eligible to apply for a hardship waiver.
Regardless of Garrison's status, however, Holgorsen seems to feel pretty good about his running backs.
"Shawne Alston will start for us. He ended the season being a starter for us in the bowl game,'' Holgorsen said. "He's a senior and had a great camp and we're looking forward to getting him out there. Andrew Buie's been doing some good things, as well.''
But that's only two ball carriers. Last year West Virginia needed four just to get through the season - Garrison, Buie, Alston and the since-departed Vernard Roberts. And Holgorsen knows he might need just as many this season.
"Running back is probably the hardest position to play in college football. Those guys take a pounding,'' Holgorsen said. "And you ask them to do so many things, from a running the ball standpoint, blocking standpoint, pass protection standpoint, receiving standpoint. So you need a lot of bodies.''
West Virginia has other bodies, of course, but most of those are being worked out as blockers, not runners.
"Ryan Clarke is a guy that can do multiple things for us,'' Holgorsen said. "Donovan Miles has been a bigger guy. Cody Clay has been doing some stuff where he can do some tight end-fullback stuff. We've got quite a few bodies, but we're going to need all of them, that's for sure.''
There is also true freshman D'Vontis Arnold, a walk-on from Miramar, Fla., who stands to be the No. 3 tailback if Garrison doesn't play.
"D'Vontis has done a good job,'' Holgorsen said. "He's relatively unknown at this point, but we do need that body.''
Arnold is only a true freshman, but last season three of the four tailbacks the Mountaineers used were in the same position - Garrison, Buie and Roberts. When Alston missed the first two games of the season still recovering from a neck injury, those were WVU's only tailbacks.
There were supposed to be two more true freshmen in the mix this season, but neither is with the team. Roshard Burney didn't qualify academically and Torry Clayton left school over the weekend after three weeks of practice.
"He said he wanted to go home,'' Holgorsen said.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.