2011 Season Preview – Part 3, Running Backs


Continuing our Season Preview series by position, we are now going to talk about the running backs.

The changes about to come on offense are no more prevalent than at running back. Not only has Noel Devine graduated, but Mountaineer fans must get used to new terminology as well. There’s an A-back, the feature runner, and a B-back, which is code for fullback. The successful back in this offense will be a dual-threat, splitting defenses as a runner and receiver.

It’s early, but coming out of spring, 5-9, 182-pound true freshman Vernard Roberts held the top spot at A-back. While not off-the charts in one particular area, he’s looked the part so far, making people miss, changing direction, and showing soft hands as a receiver. At 5-10 and 180 pounds, sophomore Trey Johnson is a similarly-sized runner, with one added dimension; he can fly, getting to top gear faster than any Mountaineer back.

If the staff wants to go jumbo at A-back, it’ll have multiple options. Both 6-0, 232-pound junior Ryan Clarke and 5-11, 219-pound junior Shawne Alston missed time to injury in the spring, but will have roles in the fall. A terrific power back in short yardage and lead blocker, Clarke has run for 541 yards and 16 touchdowns on 140 carries over the last two seasons. Alston also does his best work between the tackles, running for 248 yards on 56 carries in 2010. A key recruit from 2008, he has the vision and leg drive to pick up more yards after contact.

When the Mountaineers employ a B-back, 6-0, 236-pound junior Matt Lindamood will be the likely choice. Strictly a blocker and special teamer, he still plays with the passion and intensity of a former walk-on.

Watch Out For …. Clarke’s role to continue to shrink. A possible feature back before Dana Holgorsen was hired, his skill set no longer matches what the Mountaineers are looking to do in the running game. He does have value, however, whether it’s as the B-back or as a change-of-pace at A-back.
Strength: Balance. Okay, so it’s not exactly Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt, but West Virginia boasts a nice mix of talent coming out of the backfield. The young A-backs are playmakers in the Devine mold, and Clarke and Alston will provide short yardage punch when it’s needed.
Weakness: Proven players. Now that Clarke and Alston, last year’s second and third most productive backs, respectively, are being demoted, the Mountaineers will roll the dice with untested runners. Roberts, Johnson, and sophomore Daquan Hargrett are talented, but have also combined for just 18 career carries.
Overall Outlook: Holgorsen has long had a habit of creating offenses that put backs in a position to flourish, but who will that be in Morgantown? The coach seems to have taken a liking to his young runners, favoring undersized backs who can do a little bit of everything. It’s unlikely one Mountaineer will command the bulk of the touches, meaning a committee approach might be employed.