By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
For a coach whose offense has most deservedly been dubbed the Air Raid, considering that everywhere he goes passing records are shattered like so many cheap vases atop an unstable credenza in a 7.3 earthquake, Dana Holgorsen constructed a rather impressive stable of West Virginia University running backs.
There are, in fact, no fewer than three of them who have gained 200 yards in a collegiate game along with a big shot junior college transfer with the rather catchy name of Dreamius Smith and even a group of talented freshmen, so many that you were moved to ask offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson if, perhaps, he has too much of a good thing.
“I promise you, we don’t,” he answered, without so much a momentary hesitation. “Don’t worry about that.”
But Dustin Garrison, Andrew Buie, transfer Charles Sims, Smith … on and on.
“We’re talented at running back, no doubt, but it’s not like they go out there and do everything perfect,” Dawson said, sounding very much like a coach trying to prepare his team for a long season.
But there was a point Dawson was about to make about the position of running back, a point which isn’t readily thought of.
“Running back is probably the most physical position on the field,” he said, probably meaning among the skill players on offense. “You need more numbers at running back than you do at any receiver position.”
“Running backs have to pick up blitzes; they have to get hit on every play; they run between the tackles and do things we never ask our receivers to do,” he said. “Our inside receivers, at times, they don’t even need shoulder pads out there, the way they play.”
Chalk that aside up to his general overall displeasure with his inside receivers.
The truth is we see running backs almost every year go down, be it to a knee injury as Garrison did two years ago, a toe injury as Amos Zereoue once did, a concussion or a shoulder injury. It is a far more common part of being a running back than winning a Heisman Trophy.
That is why Dawson says he’s hesitant to redshirt any of this group of running backs.
“It’s hard to redshirt a running back,” he said. “In our mind right now they will all play a significant role. It’s hard to redshirt a running back that’s capable because we know we’re probably going to need them all.”
Part of that is because of the aforementioned displeasure with his inside receivers but also because of the inexperience possessed by his three quarterbacks, leaving an uncertainty as to how effective the passing game will be.
Among the running backs, Sims has emerged as the most special.
“He’s the same person every day,” said Dawson. “He is probably the most consistent guy we have out there as far as coming out, keeping his mouth shut, giving maximum effort. He’s truly a good, good player and a good kid. If I was one of those young kids I’d watch him in every drill in practice and watch everything he does.”
Sims is not your normal transfer coming over and trying to fit in. He has had great success at Houston both running and catching passes and done so one year under Holgorsen, when he was offensive coordinator.
Perhaps the most intriguing is Smith, another newcomer out of Butler Community College in Kansas. He’s a big kid, 217 pounds and 6-1 or so, strong and fast. The word is that he is a good inside runner, but Dawson warns about thinking of him simply as a short yardage guy.
“If they do pigeon hole him (as a between-the-tackles guy) and he gets out in the open, he’ll outrun you in a hurry,” Dawson said.
The truth is that of the group, only Garrison doesn’t list running between the tackles as a strength but Dawson says that would not stop them from using him that way.
“Dustin doesn’t run between tackles like Dreamius, but you get him in open field and he’s pretty good, too. That’s our job on how to utilize people. You can move Dustin around to a lot of places, too,” Dawson said.
To date they have been scripting plays in practice without caring who is on the field. Next week they will begin getting into situational stuff.
“We’re not going to ask them to do different things. One may be a little better than another doing a certain thing, but we’re not going to limit them,” Dawson said. “We’re not going to pigeon hole them. If we do that it won’t take long for the other guys to know if he’s in the game he’s going to run this play or that play.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.