Junior running back Wendell Smallwood will be a key player for West Virginia this season. His versatility will help an offense that’s losing significant components.
Smallwood made an impact in head coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense as soon as he arrived. In 2013, he played behind Charles Sims who was the Mountaineers’ No. 1 back, but he still put up decent numbers for being a freshman, backup (231-yards, and one touchdown), giving us a glimpse of what he might be able to do down the road.
“Down the road” is here and this season Smallwood has all the potential to be a breakout player for West Virginia.Dec 29, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers running back Wendell Smallwood (4) carries the ball while being defended by Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Nick Harvey (8) during the game in the 2014 Liberty Bowl at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Texas A&M Aggies beat West Virginia Mountaineers 45 – 37. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
“Wendell Smallwood has got a chance to be a special player,” Holgorsen said following the team’s most recent spring practice. “You will see him doing a whole bunch of stuff out here today. He looks just like Charles Sims did two years ago.”
In 2014, Smallwood carried the ball 148 times for 722-yards, and scored two touchdowns. Smallwood, again was not the premier back as Rushel Shell took on that role and will probably resume the same role again this season.
While Smallwood is a good running back, he’s worth more than just handoffs. Smallwood is very effective in the passing game. He has the ability to catch screens, short passes and is a solid route runner for deeper passes as well.
With primary receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford headed to the NFL and the future of the receiving corps up in the air (no pun intended) — Smallwood could be a major factor in the ariel attack.
In his freshman season, Smallwood caught 11 passes for 132-yards, but last season he had a much bigger season from a receiving standpoint. Smallwood reeled in 31 catches for 326-yards, his longest being a 50-yard pass.
Dakiel Shorts, Jordan Thompson and KJ Meyers are just some of the receivers that have potential to shine for West Virginia, but it isn’t estimated that the Mountaineers will have another Kevin White type of guy. The catches will be coming from a wide variety of players, and Smallwood will be in that mix.
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The more versatile a running back can be, the better off he is in the offense. Holgorsen believes Smallwood will give defenses headaches because of all the ways the Mountaineers will be able to use him.
“The more the better. The more of those guys that we can play at running back that block, that can move to a variety of positions and can catch that makes it hard defensively to keep track of guys,” said Holgorsen. “They are going to have to find four or five different spots that he can line up at, which is going to make it hard to defend him.”
Add the ability to block and Smallwood is the complete package. With Shell most likely getting the bulk of the carries coming out of the backfield, Smallwood will fill other roles along with running back. There isn’t any reason not to believe he won’t excel in these opportunities, either. Expect a bigger role and workload for Smallwood in 2015.