Individual To Team Key For WVU Running Backs

Individual To Team Key For WVU Running Backs

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Spring drills and summer sessions focus mostly on individual skill development for the West Virginia football team. While there are some full 11-on-11 sessions and the Gold – Blue game to see full unit action, much of the work in the first seven months of the calendar year is dedicated to individual improvement. Whether it’s the basics of strength and conditioning, or refinement of game techniques and skills, there’s more attention paid to those items than to the forging of team play.

That begins to change this weekend for WVU, as a big scrimmage session is planned for Friday. With at least 100 snaps set to occur, it’s time to begin the melding of those (hopefully) improved individual talents into team play. Running backs coach Tony Dews is one of the Mountaineer assistants hoping to see the beginning of that process.

“Execution of the schemes of the fundamental stuff, and being able to take it from the individual drills into a scrimmage situation,” Dews said of the items he would like to see as West Virginia begins the transition from camp, with its uninterrupted focus on football, into the beginning of the semester. With classes beginning next Wed., Aug. 16, players become students again, and must mix in the demands of academics with football preparation. Thus, Friday’s work figures to be very important.

“When the lights come on you can default back to what you know rather than what you worked on,” said Dews, who wants to witness the lessons of drills put into practice in simulated game situations. “I would like to see them do that. I would like to see them have fun, enjoy themselves and then be physical. Be physical and be tough.”

At first glance, reversion wouldn’t seem to be an issue, as the top trio of Justin Crawford, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway have already seen game action. However, there was still much for them to learn, as none had been on campus for long before making their debuts in 2016.

Tony Dews

“In the case of Justin and Kennedy last year, both of those guys are a year further in development physically. Justin came in last summer and now he’s been through a winter of strength and conditioning and a summer of strength and conditioning, and now into a camp, and Kennedy the same way. They are a year more mature physically,” Dews noted.

The same is true of Pettaway. None had the benefit of that entire year’s cycle of lifting, running, study and practice, and the techniques all have polished since the end of the season in Orlando last year. Now Dews wants to see it manifested in a long scrimmage session, with consistency and adjustment to roles in the forefront. How will each respond when called upon in specific situations? Will McKoy be the pass-catching threat that’s envisioned? (Crawford might surprise there too.) Who will emerge as a short yardage back? (Pettaway, with his build and rock-hard running style, seems a likely candidate.)  Might Tevin Bush, who is in the same short experience situation as the trio in front of him was a year ago, forge a spot for himself?

In their efforts to shine, they must also guard against trying to do too much. Reading keys, making good cuts and completing assignments, especially those without the ball, are all part of that transition from practice to game-like situations.

Common wisdom, perhaps beaten into the ground by some, is that the backfield will be a platoon approach. While that well could occur, it’s not something that Dews or the coaching staff is committed to. Despite repeated questions pertaining to a schedule or a split of carries among the backs, the 20-year coaching veteran who is on his second go-round at WVU maintains that there is none. In fact, it could go in the opposite direction, even though the workload has been fairly evenly distributed so far in practice.

“If you have a guy that can carry it 300 times give it to him 300 times,” Dews said with a smile, acknowledging the hyperbole involved but at the same time making a point. “We are in a fortunate situation where we have several guys that are capable of playing. If we get to that point, I feel like Coach Joseph and his staff do a heck of a job with these guys, so  I feel like the durability will be there, and their bodies are prepared for that.”

WVU has only had one player in history carry the ball more than 300 times in a season (Avon Cobourne had 335 in 2002), so it’s unlikely that anyone on this year’s team will approach that number. Crawford had 163 a year ago, and without injuries would have eclipsed the 200 mark easily, but that’s still a long way from 300. The real point to be taken here is that there’s no definite plan in place for use in any one game. If one guy is running well, plays are working and fatigue isn’t a factor, 25 carries for one player in one contest isn’t unreasonable at all. The next week, such duty might fall to another. But the keys here are that WVU has multiple players who are healthy enough to carry a big load in any particular game, and that the Mountaineers don’t have to depend on one guy to do it over and over again. The process of determining who is primed for that duty begins in earnest now.