The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 11, 2011

RB competition far from over

MORGANTOWN — By far the most interesting position battle in West Virginia’s fall camp is the one in the backfield, where freshman Vernard Roberts is, at least early, holding off the charge of a brigade of backs.

A true freshman, Roberts, and his twin brother, Vance, a defensive back, reported early and broke through in the Gold-Blue Spring Game. The 5-foot-9, 182-pound Washington, D.C., native had 10 carries for a game-high 64 yards.

“Vernard Roberts is not backing down whatsoever,” coach Dana Holgorsen said Wednesday evening after practice. “We gave him the ball a bunch, and he’s getting yards. He’s tough. He’s probably a tougher, more physical runner than the other two guys.”

The other two would be true freshmen Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, who have also impressed after five days in camp.

“Those young guys are pretty good,” Holgorsen said. “Dustin Garrison is very patient and has good vision. He makes people miss in space. Andrew Buie is quick-twitched. He sticks his toe in the ground, and it’s full speed ahead. Both have good ball skills.”

Garrison is also durable. At Pearland (Texas) High School last fall, the 5-8, 165-pound back had 406 carries for 2,842 yards and 46 touchdowns.

Buie, a Jacksonville, Fla., native, rushed for 1,782 yards on 211 carries and 26 touchdowns at Trinity Christian Academy.

And Trey Johnson, another spring game star, is also in the mix. The 5-10, 180-pound sophomore had nine carries for 57 yards and also caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from backup QB Paul Millard in the spring skirmish.

“(The running back competition) makes Trey play that much harder and motivates him,” Holgorsen said. “Shawne (Alston) is also a guy that we are going to find a way for him to play.”

Alston, a 5-9, 219-pound junior, had 56 carries last season for 248 yards (4.4 yards per carry).

With Ryan Clarke (eight TDs, most in goal-line packages) and fullbacks Matt Lindamood and Matt Kovatch back, it is a crowded house in the backfield.

Which leads to the obvious question: Could one of the mighty-mite backs be moved to slot receiver?

It’s always a possibility,” Holgorsen said. “We want to get the best guys out there that we can, but they all came here to play running back. What I see out of them, from a running back standpoint, is something I’m excited about.

“It’s going to be a fun competition to watch. We’re far from that thing being over.”

Receiver is a different story, Holgorsen said.

He has been unhappy with the Mountaineer pass catchers since last spring, and that attitude hasn’t changed. In fact, judging from his statements, it may be worse.

“Those guys are all incredibly inconsistent — all of them,” Holgorsen said. “A couple of them will have a good day, and a couple of them will have a bad day. The rest of them have been spotty. I don’t know how those guys can get worse from spring, but it looks to me like some of them have.”

Brad Starks, a 6-3, 193-pound senior who showed big-play capability with 48 catches for 722 yards and six TDs the past two seasons, is a perfect example.

Asked about Starks, Holgorsen said, “He’s not even in the equation right now. I’ve seen him practice twice, and I don’t have a comment on him.”

Ryan Nehlen has caught Holgorsen’s attention.

“The great ones are consistent. Justin Blackmon last year (at Oklahoma State) was the most consistent guy I had ever seen,” Holgorsen said. “It was every day. Every single day.

“A lot of these guys are young right now, and they don’t understand that. The one guy that probably does understand it is Ryan Nehlen. Tavon (Austin) has been good but not as good as he can be. I think he has a lot of improving to do. Ryan Nehlen gives it everything he’s got, and it’s the same thing every day.

“He had a good day. His granddad (coach Don Nehlen) needs to come to practice more. This was the first time coach Nehlen has been here, and he played good today.”

— E-mail: demorrison@


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