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Asti: CJ Donaldson Taking a Jump is Key for West Virginia’s Offense in 2023



WVU Football running back CJ Donaldson

A year ago at this time, the name CJ Donaldson wasn’t in the mind of anyone outside of Morgantown. Fast forward to the present day and he’s now a player with an incredibly high ceiling that will undoubtedly be relied on heavily by WVU.

Everything suggests Donaldson could be even better than he was when healthy during his freshman season in 2022. But one question that currently surrounds Donaldson is if he will be able to be fully healthy and if he can last throughout an entire season.

Donaldson was so good that he led the Mountaineers in rushing through the first quarter of the season. That’s despite playing the running back position for the first time in his life and West Virginia anointing Tony Mathis the featured back. Overall, he put up 526 yards for an average of six yards per touch and scored eight touchdowns when on the field. His statistics don’t even speak enough to how electrifying he was from the moment the Backyard Brawl kicked off in Pittsburgh until he suffered a concussion in Austin and had his season cut short with another injury against TCU, an injury that led to surgery.

So What Type of Back Could CJ Donaldson Become?

All of that makes coaches and even fans dream of how much better Donaldson can be now that he has experience playing the position, but there are also a couple obstacles that could stand in his way. The injury concern, which has caused him to be limited in Spring practices, is there, but there’s a reason it’s a concern. Even before getting hurt, WVU head coach Neal Brown was still hesitant to give Donaldson more carries.

WVU HC Neal Brown Knows CJ Donaldson Has ‘Big Time Ability’

Brown wasn’t shy to say that Donaldson would need to get in better shape to warrant touches, whether that came on the ground or as a receiving threat. Size coupled with athleticism is part of why he’s such a force. A 240-pound running back over 6-foot tall is a tough tackle for any defender, and that was evident by Donaldson being able to turn short gains for most players into big plays.

What Does Neal Brown Think of Donaldson’s Potential?

“I thought CJ Donaldson got some in the live work, I think he had some 4 or 5 carries. If he will continue to work on his body and stay healthy, he’s got big time ability. He really does,” said Brown when going over what stood out to him recently about when Donaldson has been out on the field.

“He’s an extremely smart football player and he showed that today. He had a couple really explosive runs and showed good patience. He’s a load to tackle,” Brown continued gushing over the potential of Donaldson after a recent practice.

It’s now about making sure his 240-pound frame is made of more muscle and less body fat. Donaldson can’t simple rely on his athletic ability to dominate over opponents on its own. This is especially true because the West Virginia offense is now shifting to a more obvious running focus. With Chad Scott’s promotion to offensive coordinator and the fact a dual threat quarterback will be leading the Mountaineers, WVU will go as far as their ground attack takes them.

There’s also likelihood that the West Virginia offense will throw multiple running backs out there at the same time. Donaldson is all but assured opportunities, but if he’s ready for them and if he can he handle them will determine the success of the offense as a whole.

Unlike last year, Donaldson won’t be able to surprise anyone anymore. If anyone can stop him is another topic, but being in better shape and learning his craft more will allow him to stay on the field and take his game to another level.

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