Starter (A-Back): Dustin Garrison (5-foot-9, 166 pounds; Sophomore)
Garrison was held out of the Discover Orange Bowl last season after tearing his ACL a few days before the game, but before that he was the running back that head coach Dana Holgorsen had been looking for to step in and fill the void as a consistent force in the running game. His breakout game as a freshman came in his first career start against Bowling Green, when he picked up 291 of the 742 yards he gained as a freshman.
Even with his injury last season causing him to miss spring practice, Garrison has a very good shot of entering the 2012 season as the Mountaineers’ starter at the “A” running back position. His ability to run the ball well, as well as catch the ball out of the backfield, make him a great complement to West Virginia’s impressive passing attack. But he won’t just be given the starting job, he’ll have plenty of competition to beat out if he wants to be the starter.
Backup (A-Back): Shawne Alston (5-foot-11, 235 pounds; Senior)
If anybody was able to benefit from the extra reps they got to see while Garrison was hurt in the Orange Bowl and during spring practice, it was Alston.
Holgorsen said at Big 12 Media Day that the coaches and his teammates call Alston “The Boss,” and has repeatedly stated the fact that the big back out of Hampton, Va. is incredibly hard to take down when he gets going. After not scoring a touchdown in his first two seasons at West Virginia, Alston reached paydirt enough for all three seasons in 2011, scoring 12 touchdowns as the Mountaineers’ go-to guy in short yardage and goal line situations. He used that success and the extra reps in practice to help him improve even more during the spring and now has what looks like a decent shot of taking the job from Garrison with an impressive showing during camp.
Third-String (A-Back): Andrew Buie (5-foot-9, 187 pounds; Sophomore)
Probably the most highly touted of West Virginia’s three freshmen running backs heading into the 2011 season, Buie had a little bit of trouble adjusting to the college level at first last season. He earned to starts in the early part of his freshman season, but his inability to hold onto the ball eventually caused him to get passed up on the depth chart by players like Garrison and Vernard Roberts, who has since transferred from WVU.
Like Alston though, Buie stepped up and showed glimpses of his potential when Garrison went down with his injury. He carried the ball 13 times during the Orange Bowl, including one of the more impressive plays of the game when he was able to roll up on top of a Clemson defender without his knee touching the ground and keep going to put the Mountaineers in good position to score early on.
The “A” position will definitely be an interesting battle to watch with Buie, Garrison and Alston all fighting it out to be No. 1 on the depth chart when the Marshall game comes around this fall.
Starter (B-Back): Ryan Clarke (6-foot, 231 pounds; Senior)
After struggling during camp heading into his junior season, Clarke saw his role decrease significantly in 2011. After getting 140 carries during his freshman and sophomore seasons, Clarke didn’t receive a single carry as a junior and was delegated to being strictly a blocked in the limited time that he saw on the field.
But with an impressive spring, it looks like Clarke has emerged to be on the verge of beginning to get carries once again as he enters his final season in Morgantown. The big thing he will have to prove as the Mountaineers prepare to start camp in a few days is that he will be able to handle those carries without fumbling and giving the ball to the other team. That’s what hurt him heading into last year.