Moving Forward at Tailback

Silas Redd may be gone. But the cupboard is hardly bare in the Nittany Lion backfield. We look at the players who will be asked to step up.

OK, so Penn State tailback Silas Redd has taken his act to USC. Where do the Nittany Lions go from here in the backfield?

As things stood as of this writing, the program was still in good shape at running back. Yes, losing Redd hurt. But if the rest of the backs stick around, the running game should be just fine in 2012.

Here is a quick look at the rest of the options at tailback/running back, starting with the new projected starter and then proceeding in no particular order.


Bill Belton

So., 5-10, 196

Belton did a little bit of everything at Penn State as a true freshman in 2011. He carried 13 times for 65 yards (mostly as a wildcat quarterback), caught one pass and even attempted a couple of passes.

He was listed as a wide receiver, but with his compact build clearly was not a good fit at the position. Bill O'Brien and his staff wasted no time moving Belton to tailback, his more natural position. He has been there since the spring, and said it has not been a difficult transition.

“It wasn't tricky for me,” Belton said at Rise & Rally Tuesday morning. “I grew up playing running back in Little League and my whole life. It wasn't any big thing. I was able to make the transition and learn all the blocking schemes and just get it going right away.”

Belton is not quite as quick as Redd (few are) but he has more pure speed. If he does become the starter, he'll have to rely less on beating defenders to the corner and more on finding space between the tackles.

He also has the tools to excel as a receiver out of the backfield.


Curtis Dukes

RS-Jr., 6-1, 242

Dukes missed spring practice while getting his academic house in order, but is back with the team for summer workouts. O'Brien said if his summer grades were good -- and they appeared to be -- Dukes would be back in good standing with the team for preseason camp.

If he is still with the team, he'll be an intriguing prospect. He is big and fast. Among PSU's top backs last season, nobody averaged more yards per carry (5.8).

The previous staff's beef with Dukes was that he didn't have a natural feel for the game. He also took criticism for not blocking as well as someone his size should have.

But O'Brien has promised everyone the proverbial clean slate, and if Dukes can make the most of it in the preseason he could be a real factor.


Zach Zwinak

RS-So., 6-1, 226

Zwinak was the primary beneficiary of Dukes' absence in the spring. Back at full strength for the first time since tearing an ACL while redshirting as a true freshman in 2010, he is a prototypical power running back. If he sees a hole, he powers through it. If there is no hole, he crashes into whoever happens to be in front of him.

There is nothing flashy about his game. But he is faster than you might think.

He will be a good option in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He is tougher than Dukes and more athletic than veteran fullback Michael Zordich (who we see being used in a variety of roles on offense, but not so much as a ball carrier -- that is why he is not included in this rundown).


Derek Day

Sr., 5-9, 195

Pound for pound, Day may be the strongest player on the team. For his size, he is a good blocker. He is also a vocal team leader. For those reasons, the staff loves him.

Unless there is a mass exodus of running backs, “D-Day” doesn't figure to get much work as a ball carrier. But the staff won't be afraid to call his number when an extra blocker is needed in the backfield.


Akeel Lynch

Fr., 6-0, 195

It is difficult to project what is going to happen with Penn State's true freshmen. But if Lynch sticks around, he should have the opportunity to make a significant impact at tailback.

Lynch is a smooth runner with great vision. He does not have super quick feet but can still cut back against the grain in traffic. He has the kind of breakaway speed which -- outside of the oft-injured Stephfon Green -- has been in short supply in these parts (at least at tailback) since Larry Johnson Jr. was tearing up defenses a decade ago.



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