- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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The last two weeks, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 heading into the fall.
On Friday, we continue the series with West Virginia.
Strongest position: Running back
The Mountaineers running back corps is quite possibly the best position group in the entire conference. WVU features five different running backs who could win the starting job and/or handle the load as the main ball carrier this fall, including two running backs who have led the Mountaineers in rushing during their careers yet aren't considered favorites to start.
Sophomore Wendell Smallwood was the star of the spring, and his versatility ensures he will be a key part of the Mountaineers offense in 2014. He has the ability to play a similar role to Charles Sims with his running and receiving skills.
Senior Dreamius Smith returns after rushing for 494 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. Rushel Shell, a transfer from Pittsburgh, has terrific upside and size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds). Andrew Buie had 851 rushing yards in 2012, a team high, and returns after missing the 2013 season. Dustin Garrison, who led the squad with 742 rushing yards in 2011, also returns after a injury-riddled 2013 season.
And freshman Donte Thomas-Williams, the No. 138 player in the 2014 ESPN 300, joins the mix in the summer.
The competition for carries should be intense but WVU’s offense will be the beneficiary, as there will be minimal dropoff when the Mountaineers look to the the sideline for fresh legs in the backfield.
Weakest position: Defensive line
The Mountaineers need several players to step up along the defensive front.
Kyle Rose is the most productive returnee and is slated to move inside to defensive tackle after starting six games at defensive end as a sophomore. He had 49 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss, last season.
Dontrill Hyman and Christian Brown finished the spring alongside Rose atop the depth chart but have combined to start only two games during their WVU careers. The Mountaineers should get a boost from former Gardner-Webb standout defensive end Shaquille Riddick, who decided to finish his career in Morgantown, W. Va., earlier this week.
The Mountaineers have some potential contributors along the defensive line but very little experience or proven playmakers. If WVU hopes to return to a bowl game, its defensive line unit will have to go from unproven to disruptive this fall.