MORGANTOWN - Bill Stewart talked on Monday like there was a good chance that Noel Devine will be available for West Virginia's game with UNLV on Saturday. But even if he isn't, the Mountaineers are in pretty good shape at tailback.
Devine suffered a bruise to the bone in his foot below and behind his big toe in West Virginia's game at LSU 10 days ago. He was held to just 14 carries and 37 yards in that 20-14 loss and practiced sparingly during the team's off week.
Stewart said Monday that Devine had already been to the training room three times that day for treatment.
"He wants to get healthy as much as the next guy,'' Stewart said. "He bounced around a little bit in practice and didn't do as much as he wanted to do. Hopefully [today] and Wednesday he'll get back on track. I really anticipate him being able to play Saturday and play a lot.''
There stands the chance, though, that Devine will not be able to play or that Stewart will simply elect to hold him out of Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game against four-touchdown underdog UNLV at Mountaineer Field. With the Big East opener against South Florida just five days later - the teams meet in Morgantown a week from Thursday - it would not seem out of the question to play it safe with several of West Virginia's walking wounded.
"We're going to run him enough to win the football game,'' Stewart said, assuming that Devine plays at all. "And if he can't go, you just have to go with Plan B.''
Plan B, Stewart said again this week, does not include moving Tavon Austin or Jock Sanders into the backfield from their positions as starting receivers. But unlike the LSU game, when 235-pound Ryan Clarke was WVU's only legitimate option, there are other possibilities now. Little true freshman Trey Johnson has been getting more work in practice and 220-pound sophomore Shawne Alston appears to be healthy after fighting a knee injury the past few weeks.
"We have not done the slot receivers,'' Stewart said when asked about the possibility of moving Austin or Sanders. "I mentioned that as a possibility [in a coaches' meeting Sunday night], having both [Sanders and Austin] ready. But that being said, Trey Johnson practiced very well, as did Shawne Alston. Shawne Alston really has some fresh legs and his knee looks to be a lot better.
"To be very honest, with Trey Johnson and Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke and Matt Lindamood in there blocking as a fullback, I think we have more than enough to get through. But to bring Tavon or Jock around out of the slot like we've done in the past, that wouldn't be something out of the extraordinary also. But right now we have not moved [Sanders or Alston] back there full time.''
Even if Austin or Sanders aren't moved into the tailback spot, they can still be used as running backs in the regular offense. The Mountaineers have several sets and plays in which one goes in motion and takes handoffs, so getting them the ball as a running back is a simple matter of running more of those plays.