Blackwell Likes What He Sees From WVU’s Running Backs
West Virginia’s running back coach has been with the program less time than most of the players in his charge.
Marquel Blackwell arrived at West Virginia this past February. The Mountaineers’ former running back coach, Tony Dews, was hired by the NFL’s Tennessee Titans in early February, and WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen wasted little time in finding Dews’ replacement, plucking Blackwell from Toledo.
A quarterback in his playing days at South Florida (1999-2002), Blackwell helped develop a highly efficient ground attack at Toledo, where he coached the Rockets’ running backs in 2016 and 2017. His star pupil his first year was Kareem Hunt, who was the NFL’s rushing leader last year (1,327 yards) as a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now at West Virginia, Blackwell inherits a running back position that doesn’t feature a senior but still has a good bit of depth and experience. Juniors Kennedy McKoy, who has 1,068 career rushing yards, and Martell Pettaway, who has 409 career rushing yards, each has seen a good bit of action the past two years. In addition, redshirt freshman Alec Sinkfield has drawn raves for the Mountaineer coaches since he arrived on campus in the summer of 2017, and true freshmen Leddie Brown is doing the same this summer. That doesn’t even include two walk-ons, Lorenzo Dorr and Brady Watson, who Blackwell likes as well.
With four scholarship running backs all fighting for playing time and a starting job, it may seem like a tough job splitting up the carries. But Blackwell certainly isn’t worried about having too many quality backs.
“The more the better,” stated the 39-year-old, coach who is a native of St. Petersburg, Fla. “You never know how the season is going to go, so you have to prepare. Fortunately we’re continuing to build depth in that room. We have some experience with guys who have been in the program, and then we have a young guy who is very talented and is just soaking in everything.”
The young guy in the group, and the only back who has been at WVU for less time than Blackwell, is Brown. The 5-foot-11, 211-pound rookie is turning some heads in the early going of preseason camp.
“He may be a freshman, but his presence is noticeable,” Blackwell said of Brown, who was a first-team Class 2A all-state running back in Pennsylvania last year playing at Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia. “There is a lot to playing that position. You have to run the ball. You have to understand the schemes and the blocking, and you also have to protect the quarterback.”
It’s that part of blocking for quarterbacks that usually is the hardest for young backs to pick up.
“The pass protection at our level is probably a little more complicated than what they did in high school,” noted Blackwell. “Leddie has some natural things that help him. But in high school, the running back may not be that involved in pass protection much, especially is you are The Guy. With who we have back there at quarterback, he’s very important and we have to protect him.
“Leddie has heard us talk about pass protection all summer, and now he has to go out and execute. He’s a football-instinctive kid. It comes to him naturally,” added Blackwell. “He’s very coachable, and he’s working hard. Those are all good attributes for a young guy.”
Brown isn’t the only back Blackwell likes.
“Alec is really, really tough, and that’s a good thing at this position,” the assistant coach said of Sinkfield. “He’s very quick twitch, and he can run. He’s one of those guys who seems to do everything right all the time. I’m really excited about him, just as I’m very excited about Kennedy, very excited about Pettaway, very excited about Leddie, very excited about Dorr, very excited about Brady. I’m excited about all of them.”
West Virginia has over three weeks to go before it opens the season on Sept. 1 against Tennessee in Charlotte. Blackwell said he’s not ready to hand out starting roles or depth chart spots yet.
“We still have a ways to go, and it’s early in camp, but I like the way those guys are competing right now,” he said.