Spring battle spotlight: West Virginia RBs

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
1:00
PM ET
West Virginia is losing a probable NFL draft pick in running back Charles Sims. Yet the Mountaineers might not see much of a drop-off with a talented group ready to battle for carries in the backfield.

Departed: Sims. In his lone season in Morgantown, W.Va., after transferring from Houston, Sims finished with 208 carries for 1,095 yards and 14 total touchdowns. His 45 receptions for 401 yards led all Big 12 running backs and ranked No. 8 nationally. His versatility, consistency and overall production will be tough to replace.

[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsTransfer Rushel Shell rushed for 641 yards at Pittsburgh in 2012.
Spring contenders: Junior Dustin Garrison, junior Andrew Buie, sophomore Wendell Smallwood, senior Dreamius Smith and sophomore Rushel Shell.

Summer contenders: Donte Thomas-Williams, who was ranked No. 138 in the 2014 ESPN 300.

The skinny: It could be the most interesting position battle in the Big 12 this spring with so many highly regarded talents angling for one spot.

Smith looked like a play-making running back at times then looked average at other times. His talent was on display in 2013 but overall consistency was lacking. It’s his final chance to show what he can do.

Smallwood was one of the Mountaineers’ most improved players down the stretch during his true freshman season. The fact he earned the trust of WVU running backs coach Jajuan Seider during his first collegiate campaign should not be overlooked.

Shell, a highly regarded transfer from Pittsburgh, brings experience and a physical running style to the Mountaineers' backfield. He could be tough to keep off the field.

Buie, the Mountaineers’ leading rusher in 2012, faces a long road to regaining his reputation after leaving the team just before the 2013 season. But Buie appears to have returned to the program with renewed focus and, as an experienced playmaker, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him climb back up the depth chart.

Injuries have hampered Garrison for the past two seasons, but he started eight games as a freshman, so he brings experience to the table if he can shake off the injury bug.

Thomas-Williams will enter the mix during the summer and has a combination of power and playmaking that could help him make an immediate impact.

Prediction: As many as four of these running backs carve themselves a role in the Mountaineers’ attack this season. There’s a bunch of talent on the roster, and coach Dana Holgorsen will be willing to find a spot for any running back who proves he can make plays. Fitting each running back’s role to his strengths would allow fresh legs to handle different roles while the overall competition for carries would keep rolling throughout the year. The only major surprise would be if one guy takes over to handle every role, becoming an every-down back who stays in the game in short yardage and third-down situations.

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BIG 12 SCOREBOARD

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