Big 12: Marcell Lazard

West Virginia opened spring ball last weekend, looking to bounce back from a disappointing season. Here’s what to look for from the Mountaineers during their spring practices:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Going into November last year, Mario Alford had only nine catches, but in his final four games he racked up 18 receptions for a staggering 450 receiving yards and two touchdowns. As a result, he finished second in the league with an average of 20.4 yards per reception. Alford, who was the No. 1 juco athlete in the country last winter, finally seemed to get comfortable in Dana Holgorsen’s offense late in the season. The tools were always there. And if Alford plays like he did last November, he could be in for a huge 2014 campaign.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Two years ago, Karl Joseph was West Virginia’s best defensive player as a true freshman safety. With 68 tackles and a team-high four fumble recoveries, Joseph didn’t have a poor sophomore season. But he didn’t turn heads the way he did as a freshman, either. For the West Virginia defense to get over the hump, Joseph needs to be an all-conference performer. He has the talent to get there. And with two years in the starting lineup, the experience to get there, as well.

Redshirt freshman to watch: The answer here would have been wide receiver Shelton Gibson, but he won’t be joining the team in an official capacity until the summer. With Gibson out, the West Virginia redshirt freshman to watch is offensive tackle Marcell Lazard. The former four-star recruit signed with the Mountaineers over Ohio State, Michigan and Florida, and will have a chance to compete for time at a position that is wide open with the graduations of Curtis Feigt and Nick Kindler. Lazard is currently listed as second team at right tackle behind Marquis Lucas, but he’ll have a chance to show what he can do this spring.

[+] EnlargeDreamius Smith
Dan Friend/USA TODAY SportsDreamius Smith is just one of many WVU RBs fighting for carries in what will be a big spring battle.
Most significant position battle: Since the QB battle is unlikely to be resolved until the fall, the running back competition will be the most compelling of the spring. Even with Charles Sims gone, the Mountaineers have several intriguing options at the position, and only so many carries to go around. Dreamius Smith opened the spring atop the depth chart after rushing for almost 500 yards last season. But he’ll have company. Wendell Smallwood took carries away from Smith in the backup role late in the year, and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Then there’s Rushel Shell, who transferred in from Pittsburgh last year. He set a Pennsylvania high school rushing record and was one of the most sought-after running backs in the 2012 recruiting class. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, who rejoined the team after leaving last preseason, have experience as West Virginia’s primary ball carriers. The competition for touches figures to be fierce at this position this spring.

Key midterm enrollee: It’s no secret the West Virginia QB spot is there for the taking, and Skyler Howard will have every opportunity to gain ground in the competition with incumbent starter Clint Trickett out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery. Howard was the No. 3 juco QB recruit in the country, and while he doesn’t have prototypical size (6 feet, 205 pounds), he had a productive year at Riverside City (Calif.) College throwing for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns. With a banner spring, he has a chance of leading the West Virginia offense onto the field against Alabama in the opener in Atlanta.

Question that could be answered: Whether Shell will be ready to help this offense. Shell had some question marks when he transferred to West Virginia. He had had been suspended during his one season at Pitt, and after leaving the team, was not welcomed back. Shell also showed up in Morgantown out of shape. There’s no denying Shell’s talent, though. And this spring, the Mountaineers will get to see what they have in Shell both physically and mentally, and whether they’ll have a running back ready to make a big impact in the fall.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will play quarterback? Trickett won’t be able to compete for his job this spring; Howard is acclimating to the offense and playing at the FBS level; Millard is spending time on the baseball diamond; and four-star freshman William Crest won’t arrive until the summer. The Mountaineers will get a better feel for the position this spring, particularly with Howard. But this is a competition that will linger well into August.
June is nearly over, and as we head into July, it's time to update the Big 12 recruiting scorecard. You can see each full class by clicking on the team name, but you'll need ESPN Insider access to see the full coverage.

Here's where the Big 12 stands for the respective 2013 classes, which can't sign letters of intent until February.

Remember, this card is in pencil. Players are free to switch commitments until they sign a letter of intent with a school.

1. Texas Longhorns

Total commits: 15
ESPN 150 commits: 7
Key commits: QB Tyrone Swoopes, C Darius James, OT Jake Raulerson, OT Kent Perkins
Class update: Texas lost the nation's top receiver, Ricky Seals-Jones, but could pick him up later down the line. It added junior-college tight end Geoff Swaim and safety Erik Huhn.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

Total commits: 12
ESPN 150 commits: 4
Key commits: RB Greg Bryant, RB Keith Ford, DE D.J. Ward, QB Cody Thomas
Class update: Oklahoma added three commits since our last update, including a new ESPN 150 member in Thomas. It also added linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni, receiver Jordan Smallwood and athlete Austin Bennett.

3. Baylor Bears

Total commits: 13
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: WR Robbie Rhodes, QB Chris Johnson, OLB Raaquan Davis, RB Johnny Jefferson
Class update: Baylor got the biggest pickup in the entire Big 12 since our last update, adding the nation's No. 5 receiver in Rhodes. That allowed the Bears to crack the national top 25, but they were already third in the Big 12. Baylor also added safeties Taion Sells and Austin Jupe as well as outside linebacker Xavier Phillips.

4. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Total commits: 10
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Fred Ross Jr., WR Marcell Ateman, DT Vincent Taylor, OT Zach Crabtree
Class update: The Cowboys added four commits between our April and May updates, then added five more in the past month to leapfrog Texas Tech. OSU has three commits in the ESPN 300, and six players with three stars. It added Taylor, quarterback Luke Del Rio, safety Jordan Sterns, guard Rami Hammad and running back Corion Webster.

5. TCU Horned Frogs

Total commits: 9
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OLB Paul Whitmill, OLB Sammy Douglas, OG Patrick Morris
Class update: TCU added five commits since our last update, and now has seven three-star commits. The Horned Frogs hopped over Kansas State and Texas Tech after adding defensive end Bryson Henderson, tight end Charlie Reid, cornerback Steve Wesley, tight end Bryson Burtnett and safety George Baltimore. (Future All-Name teamer?)

6. West Virginia Mountaineers

Total commits: 7
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: QB Chavas Rawlins, OT Marcell Lazard, RB DeShawn Coleman
Class update: WVU added three commits since we last updated, getting a nice boost from a slow start on the trail. Three players are four-stars and four are three stars. Inside linebacker Darrien Howard pledged to the Mountaineers, as did guard Tyler Tezeno and inside linebacker Elijah Wellman. Howard is the class' first player from Texas.

7. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Total commits: 7
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Devin Lauderdale, WR Dylan Cantrell, OG Baylen Brown
Class update: Texas Tech didn't add anyone since our last update, but has two four-star recruits and three three-star commits.

8. Kansas Jayhawks

Total commits: 5
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: TE Ben Johnson, LB Kellen Ash, QB Jordan Darling
Class update: Kansas added two commits since our last update -- Darling and cornerback Colin Spencer -- and jumped ahead of in-state rival K-State. Each of Kansas' commits is ranked.

9. Kansas State Wildcats

Total commits: 4
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ILB Tanner Wood, DE Jordan Willis, WR LeAndrew Gordon
Class update: Kansas State hasn't added a commit since our update a month ago, but all four commits have at least three stars.

10. Iowa State Cyclones

Total commits: 4
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: QB Trevor Hodge, OG Jacob Homa, S Kamari Syrie
Class notes: Iowa State wasn't even on the scoreboard the last time we updated, getting all four of its 2013 commits in the last month. However, only one recruit, Hodge, is ranked. It also added Homa, Syrie and tight end Emmanuel Bibbs.
May is nearly over, and as we head into June, it's time to update the Big 12 recruiting scorecard. You can see each full class by clicking on the team name, but you'll need ESPN Insider access to see the full coverage.

Here's where the Big 12 stands for the respective 2013 classes, which can't sign letters of intent until next February.

Remember, this card is in pencil. Players are free to switch commitments until they sign a letter of intent with a school.

1. Texas Longhorns

Total commits: 14
ESPN 150 commits: 8
Key commits: QB Tyrone Swoopes, WR Ricky Seals-Jones, C Darius James, OT Jake Raulerson
Class update: Texas added just one players since our last update, cornerback Antwuan Davis. The Bastrop, Texas, native is the nation's No. 13 cornerback and the No. 19 player in Texas. He checks in at No. 147 on our ESPN 150.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

Total commits: 9
ESPN 150 commits: 3
Key commits: RB Greg Bryant, RB Keith Ford, DE D.J. Ward
Class update: Oklahoma has added five commits since our last update, but no ESPN 150 commits. The biggest pickup was pro-style QB Cody Thomas, a native of Colleyville, Texas. The Sooners also added ATH Stanvon Taylor, kicker Jack Steed and offensive lineman Dalton Rodriguez. It's a nice bounce back from a slow start on the trail for the Sooners.

3. Baylor Bears

Total commits: 9
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: QB Chris Johnson, OLB Raaquan Davis, RB Johnny Jefferson, WR Quan Jones
Class notes: Baylor has added three commits since our last update, but no ESPN 150 recruits. Davis pledged his intent to come to Waco from Heath, Texas. DT Tanner Thrift is also on the way, and OLB D.J. Green is one of the class' top talents as the nation's No. 27 outside linebacker.

4. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Total commits: 7
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Devin Lauderdale, WR Dylan Cantrell, OG Baylen Brown
Class notes: Texas Tech added two commits since we last updated the scorecard. Brown is the top recruit to join the fold. The 6-foot-4, 280-pounder is from Helotes, Texas. Safety Stormy Butler is trying to crash both Lubbock and my All-Name Team.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Total commits: 5
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Fred Ross Jr., WR Marcell Ateman, OT Zach Crabtree
Class update: OSU has been a big mover since our last update, picking up four commits, giving the Cowboys two four-star players and helping OSU leap over Kansas State. Crabtree joined the class on Tuesday, and Ateman gave OSU a second receiver earlier this month.

6. Kansas State Wildcats

Total commits: 4
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ILB Tanner Wood, DE Jordan Willis, WR LeAndrew Gordon
Class notes: Guard Chance Allen is the only addition to the class since we last checked in with the SnyderCats. He's a 6-foot-4, 295-pounder from Spring, Texas, a Houston suburb.

7. TCU Horned Frogs

Total commits: 4
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OLB Paul Whitmill, OLB Sammy Douglas, OG Patrick Morris
Class notes: TCU added two commits since our last update, but only two of the class members are ranked. Whitmill was the biggest addition, and takes a place as the top recruit in the class. The 6-foot, 200-pounder is the nation's No. 21 outside linebacker and hails from Bastrop, Texas. ATH Ty Slanina also committed last week.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers

Total commits: 4
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: QB Chavas Rawlins, OT Marcell Lazard, RB DeShawn Coleman
Class notes: WVU didn't have a commit the last time we checked in, but has the weakest class of those with just four commits. Only one, Rawlins, is nationally ranked. It's early, but WVU's got to pick it up. Worth noting: Three of the commits are from Pennsylvania and one is from New Jersey. The recruiting strategy switch hasn't paid off just yet. It's very, very early, though.

9. Kansas Jayhawks

Total commits: 3
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: QB Montell Cozart, TE Ben Johnson, LB Kellen Ash
Class notes: Kansas hasn't added anyone since our mid-April update, but the program is branching out its recruiting strategy to a national stage, not just the Kansas City area and Texas. That's nothing new for former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. Can he convince them to commit, though? We'll find out soon.

10. Iowa State Cyclones

Total commits: 0
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: None
Class notes: Still nada on the board for the Cyclones, who are the lone Big 12 team without a commit in the fold yet.

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