Abundance in the backfield
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - As JuJuan Seider begins his first season as West Virginia's running backs coach, he's naturally going to face some problems.
They might be matters of style or fitting into a new system, of familiarity with his players or his fellow coaches. It's a natural part of changing jobs.
One problem he's not likely to encounter, though, is a lack of talent or experience among the players he's charged with coaching. If there's one position on WVU's roster that is just bubbling over with both, it's running backs.
If that's a problem, boy is it a good one to have.
"I don't call it a problem. I call it a good thing,'' Seider said. "That's what you want. You want to have to make hard decisions.''
Even in a program that over the years has had little problem churning out top-flight running backs - between 1996 and 2008 the Mountaineers had at least one 1,000-yard rusher in 12 of 13 years - seldom has there been this kind of depth.
Consider that West Virginia's top rushers from 2011 (Dustin Garrison) and 2012 (Andrew Buie) are just juniors now. Dreamius Smith, another junior, arrived in the spring after tearing it up in junior college. And even with those three at the forefront, true freshman Wendell Smallwood managed to make his mark during the spring.
Now add to that Charles Sims, who almost immediately becomes the best of the bunch. The fifth-year senior, who transferred after graduating at Houston, would have been taken had he elected to enter the NFL draft. Now he's generally considered one of the five best running backs in next year's draft.
It all adds up to Seider hosting a meeting room just overflowing with talent, which in some ways could cause ego problems. Seider says it hasn't.
"I told those guys from the start of camp, 'All you guys with NFL aspirations, this will be the closest you get to being in the NFL without being in the NFL,' '' Seider said. "And that's what you want. You want competition.
"You want good competition where nobody's bickering behind each other's back, 'I can do this or that.' I haven't seen it. The guys have been really good in the room right now, helping each other out.''
Sims, Seider said, has helped that situation a lot with his attitude.
"The best thing about Charles is he didn't come in and try to say, 'Look at me. I'm Charles. I'm the guy,' '' Seider said. "He fit right in. He blended in with the guys.''
Seider knows all about Sims, having seen the good and the bad coaching against Houston while at Marshall. Last year, when Sims was a junior, the versatile running back limped off the field with another of his nagging ankle injuries and MU won 44-41. The year before, though, Sims put on a rather typical all-around performance against Marshall with 75 rushing yards on just seven carries and 40 yards receiving in a 63-28 Houston win.
"I had a chance to watch him when he was healthy at Marshall. He's pretty doggone good,'' Seider said. "And you can see it [now]. He's got a burst that none of the other guys have. Plain and simple he's probably the second- or third-fastest guy on the team tight now. And with his experience and the way he reacts to things, you can't coach that.''
Sims has also played for some winners. In 2011, the Cougars put together a 12-0 regular season before being upset by Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game. They finished 13-1 after beating Penn State in the Cotton Bowl and Sims ran for 821 yards, caught 51 passes for 575 yards and scored 13 times.
Throw in the fact that as a true freshman in 2009 (he was redshirted in 2010) he played for then-UH offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and it's not hard to see how great the fit can be now at West Virginia.
"He has all those qualities, he's played in the system, he knows it already,'' Seider said. "And he has the experience. He knows how to play in big games already. The year they went [13-1] and beat Penn State in a bowl game - he's a highly respected guy for a reason.''
There is, of course, no such thing as too many running backs. West Virginia thought it was well stocked two years ago with Shawn Alston, Vernard Roberts, Trey Johnson, Daquan Hargrett, Garrison and Buie. By season's end Buie and Alston were the only ones either still around or healthy, and that was after they had missed time earlier with injuries.
If, though, everyone stays healthy and ready to produce, don't count on any languishing on the bench. There are spots for some at slot receiver and Holgorsen has even said Sims is versatile enough to play wide receiver. So perhaps the depth at running back will trickle down to added depth elsewhere, as well.
"It's so early in camp you can't say right now. But I'm sure it will,'' Seider said. "You've got a chance for guys who have started games here to be the third, fourth, fifth guy on the [depth chart]. But the good thing about our offense is it allows us to get two or three backs on the field at the same time. And we're in the Big 12. Guys do get banged up. [Depth is] what you want.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.