Recent team rushing leaders far down chart
MORGANTOWN - Aside from the absence of a decision regarding a starting quarterback, perhaps the most intriguing part of West Virginia's first depth chart of the season is a glut of running backs that doesn't include last year's leading rusher.
Andrew Buie isn't listed among the four. Dustin Garrison, who led the team in rushing in 2011, is fourth on the list. Houston transfer Charles Sims is listed first, followed by true freshman Wendell Smallwood and junior college transfer Dreamius Smith.
Dana Holgorsen said Monday that there was nothing to read into Buie's absence except that he and Garrison - each of whom has a 200-yard rushing game to his credit - are simply in a much deeper mix at the position now.
"No, not at this point,'' Holgorsen said when asked if there was a reason Buie was left off the depth chart. "I think both him and Dustin Garrison have proven to be guys that have gotten experience. But anytime you add the likes of Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood, it's going to change the dynamic of that room.''
Indeed, Sims obviously arrives with quite the resume. A post-graduate transfer from Houston with one year of eligibility remaining is widely considered NFL material. Smith is a powerful junior college transfer who impressed in the spring.
The appearance of Smallwood at the No. 2 spot behind Sims, though, was a bit of a surprise. The 5-foot-11, 198-pounder enrolled in January and quietly impressed despite the glut of talent at the position.
"He's grown up a lot in the last seven months,'' Holgorsen said. "He was a guy who was here in January, so he's been through spring practice and been through an offseason, been through the summer conditioning and shown a lot of maturity and a lot of improvement from spring practice to now.''
Like Sims, Smith and even Buie, Smallwood is powerful. But Holgorsen said what separates him is something else.
"Probably the thing that distinguishes him from the rest of them is just the speed at which he plays,'' Holgorsen said. "He's the fastest guy we've got back there and he plays fast probably on a consistent basis better than the other guys.
"How much he's going to get the ball, I don't know. We've got a bunch of bodies back there and they'll all get their chance to get in there and show everybody what they can do.''
Regardless of the pecking order on the depth chart, Holgorsen said everyone is likely to get an opportunity. He can't afford to allow anyone to wither away on the bench because at that position they all could be needed. It was just two years ago that West Virginia appeared to have seven running backs in August and by the end of the season every one of them had been injured or transferred. Last year the Mountaineers tried to count on Shawne Alston as a go-to back and he spent much of the season injured, while Garrison was slow recovering from knee surgery.
"We feel like we're in pretty good shape at running back,'' Holgorsen said. "If the last couple of years have shown anything [it's that] you're going to need more than one, that's for certain. We feel pretty good about the depth at that position. We'll line those guys up and see who gets the hot hand and try to get him the ball as much as we can.''
In truth, none of those winners of the competitions are a surprise because the coaches wanted to split the kicking duties up as much as possible to keep everyone fresh.
"It's kind of the way we wanted it to work out,'' Holgorsen said. "But they had to prove it and win the jobs. And they all have.''
"He does have a redshirt year, so this will serve as that,'' Holgorsen said. "It's just like Nana had a redshirt year. Those are the two guys we lost during camp.''
The only really new member of the broadcast team is Jeff Culhane, who comes from working for IMG at Nebraska and will host the pregame, halftime and postgame shows. Contributors are Dale Wolfley and Amanda Mazey, both of whom have worked for the Mountaineer Sports Network in the past.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.