West Virginia University's current group of running backs has been hailed as one the strongest units on the team for the 2019 season by teammates, pundits and even first-year head coach Neal Brown.
Seniors Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McKoy, along with sophomores Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield, all had their moments to shine last season, so a lot is expected of them for this season with new faces just about everywhere else on the West Virginia offense.
How those backs work with the new-look WVU offensive line could determine just how productive the Mountaineers can be in 2019.
Senior tackle Colton McKivitz was a preseason All-Big 12 pick, while junior guard Josh Sills earned All-Big 12 honors last year. Other than those two, WVU will be breaking in some players that either have little playing experience at this level or in the case of guard Michael Brown, almost no playing experience at this level.
Pettaway isn't worried about the inexperience on the line behind McKivitz and Sills. He said the running backs and the linemen are tight, and that he expects them to be able to move the ball just fine behind those guys.
"We play off of them," Pettaway said. "We have a good connection with the O-linemen. We're all friends, we all hang outside of here. That's not really a problem. Once we have that flow, it's going to go."
According to Pettaway, the line can certainly help the running backs look good but that relationship goes both ways. There are situations where the backs can do things on the field to reciprocate for the linemen.
"Most definitely [the running backs can make the linemen look good]," Pettaway said. "Say like on a counter play and there is an O-lineman pulling -- we have to set the block for the O-lineman. We have to set that block up to make them look good so they can get in front of them. If we make a cut too early, they get beat in open space."
West Virginia had its first practice with shoulder pads on Sunday, followed by its first practice in full pads on Tuesday. Pettaway, for one, was excited to get the gear on and start popping pads.
Asked if there was anyone in particular from the defense he would like to meet in a hole, he said he didn't have a preference.
"Anybody that wants to meet," Pettaway said. "There are people that go around talking about how they like to hit, but when the pads come on, everybody is not as loud as they want to be."
One possibility for a collision with Pettaway is weak-side linebacker Josh Chandler.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning singled out Chandler as a player to be reckoned with during his time with the media following Saturday's practice, and the sophomore certainly passes the eye test. Chandler, a Canton, Ohio native, is listed 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds and watching him on the practice field for even just a few minutes shows he knows how to move around.
The Mountaineers lost a dynamic player in David Long, last season's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, to the NFL Draft and Chandler is one name being thrown around as the next man up to fill Long's spot on the field and as a leader on the defense.
"I worked on getting strong, faster and getting more comfortable with the scheme -- trying to figure out different tricks that best fit me and the way I can adjust my role," Chandler said. "I worked on my leadership skills."
Chandler said he has been pleased with what he has seen from his fellow linebackers so far, and credits having some continuity going back to the winter months of the offseason after Brown was hired with creating a tight-knit unit.
"I feel real good as a group," Chandler said. "We're real tight. There is competition as a group, but it's friendly competition. I can go outside of football and hang with any one of our guys. [Assistant] Coach [Al] Pogue has done a great job at having us come together and be tight.
"We're kind of going back to how things were int he spring -- we're not just starting from Day 1. Like Coach Brown says, these are the first practices of fall camp but it's not the first practice. We've been doing this -- we've been together all summer, all winter and all spring -- so it just kind of builds off each one."