Overworked? Not According to Al-Rasheed Benton

WVU Linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton Primed For Even More Production

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Al-Rasheed Benton doesn’t believe in too much of a good thing.

The middle linebacker finished the last season with 80 tackles – second-best on the team – and one interception while  rarely coming off the field and also playing special teams. It led coordinator Tony Gibson to believe Benton was overworked last season, something he’s looking to avoid this year.

Unsurprisingly, the unequivocally vocal leader disagrees.

“I don’t think I played enough,” Benton said when asked if he can match the snap count again. “I want to play 50 more plays a game if I can. I think one of the biggest things of me holding up was getting with (strength and conditioning director) Mike (Joseph) and (athletic trainer) Dave (Kerns) making sure I did my treatment, my rehab, and injury prevention things. That’s the biggest thing, on top of those little things and that’ll help you even more as the season goes on. Like I said before, if you need me to play 50 more plays than I did last year I’d do the same, just whatever the team needs.”

It’s a selfless sentiment. It’s also an argument Benton will lose. With the return of blue chip recruit Brendan Ferns, who missed all of last season after tearing an ACL in fall camp, Benton will be sharing that mike linebacker position. It should benefit both, keeping Benton fresher and allowing Ferns to master the position at his own pace, without the pressure of excessive playing time or being flipped to the strong or weakside slots.

“Good nutrition helps keep your body fat percentage down and those things help prevent soft tissue injuries, so that’s one of the things I’ve been working on,” Benton said. “Definitely nutrition has been helping me with my diet regimen. It is a big part in helping you stay on the field, and that’s a big part on why the team has been able to make some of the gains we had with strength and conditioning so far.”

Benton has taken to his leadership role naturally, to the point where he’s the player most consistently giving speeches, as he did at the close of WVU’s 100-play scrimmage on Friday. The warnings went out to stay focused on the fall practices and overall team goals, even at the expensive of personal ones. He’s also acted as a mentor for Ferns, who should elevate into the full time starting role in the middle next season.

Like Benton before, the coaching staff has considered experimenting with teaching Ferns each of the three different linebacker positions before ultimately deciding against it. Benton has been shuffled around in his career, and flashed the skill set and overall speed and alacrity to play multiple linebacker spots.
“When we teach and put things in, everybody is taught every position for that situation if it possibility arises, and for the simple fact that you want to know what the guy next to you is doing at all times so you understand your job,” Benton said. “I don’t think it’s difficult. I think that makes it an easier transition for anyone of us being able to move inside or move out knowing ahead of time what those guys do and how it helps in that specific scheme. Understanding that when you’re moving out there you know exactly what you need to do to help the defense if that’s the position you’re in as well.”
Of now, the Mountaineers have Benton and Ferns as the first and second team linebackers in the middle, flanked by Xavier Preston and Adam Hensley at sam with a mix of Dylan Tonkery and Quondarius Qualls – among others – at will until David Long returns from in late September from a meniscus tear suffered in spring.
 “I’ve always seen that out of Brendan,” Benton said when asked about Ferns’ ability to play all three linebacker positions. “Athletically and mentally, he’s never been disabled in any of those. I think the thing that was holding him back was just being able to play fast. He just had to get comfortable, and now he’s getting that comfortability level with all the positions. He’ll be a great asset for us this year.”