The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 16, 2011

Coaches convinced RBs will grow

MORGANTOWN — Robert Gillespie is the assistant coach in charge of West Virginia University’s running backs, a group that has been conspicuous by their absence two games into the season.

To the outside world — and in football that is everyone who does not dress within the Mountaineer locker room — this has been both mystifying and troubling, WVU ranking 109th of 119 BCS teams.

To Gillespie it has been neither mystifying nor troubling. If anything, considering that the three key runners are true freshmen, it is the normal course of events.

“Here’s the deal,” he said the other day as his team was in the midst of preparation for Saturday’s invasion of Maryland for a noon game on ESPNU. “I played the position. I understand what they see. It takes a while.

“I played at Florida as a true freshman, and that year is a blur,” he continued. “I can’t remember a snap. It took me a year to figure out why this is happening or that is happening. The game slows down after a year. You have to make those mistakes before you can see the cuts. That’s where they are now.”

Gillespie is patient. He believes in Dustin Garrison, Andrew Buie and Vernard Roberts and is convinced that it will happen as it always does. One moment they will be completely baffled by college football; the next moment they will suddenly get it.

“They will get better,” he said. “Everyone inside of this program understands where we are with youth at some positions. I understand some people outside the building don’t understand that, but that’s not our concern. We want to focus and get these kids to understand that we believe in you and you will get better every Saturday.

“I don’t know the exact rep it will happen, but it will happen. I have coached a lot of young guys. The third, fourth, fifth game, they get it. The game slows down, and they become good players.”

How will it happen? The way it always does, coach Dana Holgorsen said.

“It’s called practice,” he said. “When dealing with inexperienced people, there’s nothing more than practice and game snaps that get you better at it.”

Since it has worked before in his system, Holgorsen believes the running game will work again.

“We didn’t all of a sudden decide we want to be bad at the run game or develop plays that would get our running backs’ teeth knocked out” he said. “It’s about coaching, which is scheme, and feel we have some coaches who can scheme up some runs.”

It also isn’t just on the backs.

“It’s about linemen and inside receivers and backs capable of being targeted directly and being able to finish blocks, and then it’s about the guy with ball in his hand being able to open his eyes, see the hole and get there quickly.”

Here’s one of the major problems this year’s group of running backs have. There is no role model.

Avon Cobourne, Amos Zereoue, Steve Slaton and Quincy Wilson are all history.

Even the one back with experience on the roster, Shawne Alston, has been injured, and that has been a major setback to the younger backs’ development.

“Normally a kid has a chance to learn from an older kid in practice, but there is no older kid. These kids are learning from each other,” Gillespie said. “Getting Alston back will help from the standpoint he has played a game before.

“He’s a very smart kid. He’ll be able to help us in a lot of areas, not just running but from the aspect that he’s athletic enough to be able to block and do some pass protection. He had a pretty good day today. Hopefully he can stay healthy during the week and help us on Saturday.”

Quarterback Geno Smith also believes that has been a key element slowing down the run game.

“We just have to stay positive and coach our young guys up and make sure they are ready to play. I don’t think there’s anything holding them back,” Smith said. “It’s timing; it’s all about progression. Those guys we have in the backfield are young. We miss Shawne Alston. He brings someone we can go to for those tough yards.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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