Column: West Virginia football will be set at running back position


One position on the offensive side of the ball where West Virginia should be feeling rather comfortable at is running back. After a strong showing by two young backs during the annual spring game, the depth is looking strong for the Mountaineers.

The two up-and-coming backs are Donte Thomas-Williams and Jacky Marcellus.

Thomas-William, from Durham NC led the Mountaineers in rushing in the spring game. Thomas-Williams amassed 87-yards on and averaged 5.8-yards per carry.

Marcellus wracked up 47-yards and scored the offenses only touchdown of the day.

Both players have a lot upside. Thomas-Williams, at first glance, I thought at 217 pounds he could serve as the Mountaineers heavy weight back. The type of running back that picks up the tough yards.

Upon further review, however, Thomas-Williams has all the tools to be that and then some. For 217 pounds, he’s fast, shifty and posses the ability to make big-time plays when he gets into open space.

“He’s starting to really grow up,” said running backs coach JaJuan Seider. “He’s starting to come along. I thought he had really taken a step forward. You have to have a go to at some point. We have to be ready for him.”

In the spring game there were several times where Thomas-Williams made a lot of something out of a lot of nothing. His longest run of the day was 18-yards, but he can definitely be a playmaker.

Thomas-Williams isn’t the only on that can be a playmaker in this backfield. Marcellus posses the same gift. Marcellus is much smaller than Thomas-Williams, standing at just 5-foot-8 and a whopping 175 pounds, he’s the definition of shifty.

During the Gold-Blue game, his elusiveness was on display. Weaving through the offensive line and defenders, Marcellus has the ability to wiggle his way into picking up yards. His longest run of the spring game was an quick 16-yards.

While Marcellus scored the offenses only touchdown, he scored from close range, but on his first attempt at punching the ball in he was crushed at the goal line — stopped short. He’s not the back the Mountaineers want in close range and I wouldn’t want to see him there.

Marcellus can also line up as a receiver, adding more to the passing attack.

“He (Marcellus) was a high school running back. He’s from an area that I’m very familiar with,” said Seider. “The only thing he wants to do is play football. You can coach him hard. He doesn’t take anything personally. It’s enjoyable to coach a kid like that.”

These are just two newcomers that have showed potential and they’re only the start to this stacked backfield.

“I think by the time the season comes around, we will be where we were last year,” said Seider. “With (redshirt-sophomore wide receiver) Jacky (Marcellus), we can put (junior running back) Wendell Smallwood in the back a lot more. Even the stuff we do with (redshirt-freshman quarterback William) Crest can help.”

Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood also bring so much to the table.

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

Both players were not dressed and did not play in the West Virginia’s spring game due to “bumps and bruises,” but will be key players this season for the Mountaineers.

Smallwood, according to head coach Dana Holgorsen is the team’s most versatile player. His ability to play the running back position and catch balls out of the backfield makes him immensely valuable to a Holgorsen-like offense.

“Having the versatility to be able to do both is important,” said Holgorsen. “He can do so many different things. He is without a doubt our most dynamic guy right now. He had a great spring. He’s probably our fastest player and maybe our best running back. Being able to do different things is where our offense is going.”

The different things Holgorsen is looking to do is already evident as he’s experimented with Crest as a wide receiver and in the backfield. The opportunity to do many different things with a plethora of players such as Crest, Smallwood and Marcellus, Holgorsen may be able to cook up a lot of new tricks this season.

Marcellus and Smallwood will be the versatile back, but Thomas-Williams and Shell can be identified as the “true” running backs. Last season Shell was the primary back, getting the bulk of the carries in what was a crowded backfield.

He amassed 788-yards and seven touchdowns in 2014 and his stock should only rise in 2015. He showed a lot of promise last season and with the solid spring under his belt he will only continue to improve. Shell will get his touches and I still believe he’s the team’s best “true” running back.

It will once again be a crowded backfield for the Mountaineers this season. This is far from a bad thing, though. The options Holgorsen will have in not only the running attack, but the passing game as well gives him a lot to play with.

All of these backs will see time in my opinion. Whether it’s running the ball or catching passes — Holgorsen will find a way to incorporate each of their abilities into his offensive scheme.