The Times West Virginian

March 22, 2012

Backed up

Backfield depth on display at WVU spring practice

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen and running back Shawne Alston have a strong relationship, but they don’t see eye-to-eye on one thing.

Holgorsen sees the 5-11, 225-pounder from Hampton, Va., as a situational back, a hard runner who can pick up first downs and touchdowns.

Alston sees his abilities differently.

“Definitely I can be an every-down back,” he said in answer to a question as to whether or not he felt himself capable of that. “I would like the chance to prove it.”

The situation in West Virginia’s spring camp that is going on presently is a difficult one when it comes to the running back position.

Last year’s leading rusher and player who showed himself to be of star quality by rushing for 291 yards against Bowling Green is Dustin Garrison, but in a light drill prior to the Orange Bowl he tore both his ACL and MCL. It required surgery, and he is rehabilitating.

That is allowing both Alston, a hero of that Orange Bowl victory with 77 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, and young Andrew Buie to strut their stuff in camp.

When Garrison is healthy, it will be an interesting and versatile crop of running backs.

“We’re very fortunate all the freshmen from last year came back,” Alston said. “We are very familiar with the system. Two years in this system we’ve all improved as backs. Last year was our first year in the system, so we’ve all improved.”

Because their styles all differ, it presents a problem for a defense.

“The defense never knows what’s coming to them because we have a lot of different backs who can do a lot of different things. The more versatile you can be, the more dangerous you can be,” Alston said.

He, however, would not mind being the featured back.

“I think I’ll have ample opportunity to prove (that I can be an every-down back) by going out to practice every day and trying hard and showing the offensive staff what I can do. They know what I can do, but it’s just a matter of working hard in practice,” Alston said.

“I’m not sure how big of a role he can handle,” the coach said. “Shawne is a different kind of back. We certainly want to get as much out of him this year as we did the end of last year when he had 20 carries against Clemson.”

Alston understands his bruising style of running punishes not only the defender but himself.

“At times I get banged up because of my running style. I play physical,” he said. “The coaches like me to play physical. The other backs play physical, too. It’s just a matter of going to treatment and doing whatever you can to prevent those injuries and coming back to help the team any way you can.”

“Our goal is to have a bunch of running backs that can give a lot of reps,” Holgorsen continued. “Shawne plays hard and is physical, but you can’t go like he does on every run. You just can’t. His attitude is good; his mentality is good; he’s giving us good snaps right now, which should carry over to the first part of next year.”

Buie is the wildcard in the scheme and has impressed Holgorsen early in camp.

“Andrew Buie looks really good out there. He’s taking advantage of all the reps that he’s getting and looks pretty good at times,” he said.

Asked why Buie has moved back into the running back picture, Holgorsen cited health.

“He’s healthy. For the majority of last year, he wasn’t healthy. He was young and was worn down pretty quick, because he plays hard, too. He was only about 165 pounds at one point last season. He’s been working hard and has his size back. He’s about 180 now. He’s playing hard and handling the volume well. He could probably take more snaps.”

“I was pretty nicked up last year,” Buie admitted. “But as an older player, I know what you have to do to take care of your body so you can go out there and perform on the weekends. As soon as my body starts to hurt, I say something right away so they can take care of it early versus later down the road when it’s something severe, and it’s hard to bounce back from.”

Buie says the big change this year has to do with confidence.

“The confidence level is different on offense, because of the fact that everyone knows what we’re doing. It’s not so much thinking about it now as it is just going out and doing it.

“And I have more confidence, and I know what’s going on around me, which allows me to play faster. Being that it’s the second year in this offense, I know more of what’s going on and I’m more comfortable.”

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