Projected First-Teamers: Running Back

We take a look at those Penn State RBs who are expected to get first-team reps in 2013. Zwinak is back. But who else will see action?

We continue the FOS projections of Penn State's 2013 first-teamers by sizing up the running backs.

As we noted previously, our projected starters are listed in normal type. Others we expect to see first-team reps are listed in italics.


Head coach Bill O'Brien said returning 1,000-yard rusher Zach Zwinak would open training camp as Penn State's No. 1 running back. But he added that the redshirt junior might not be cleared for full contact until the middle of camp while continuing to recover from a wrist injury sustained in the Blue-White Game.

And that's really not a problem. After beginning last season low on the depth chart, the bruising Zwinak steadily climbed to the top due to one key defection and a handful of injuries. He is the one proven commodity in the backfield and, if he can cut down on the fumble issues that popped up late last season, could contend for All-Big Ten honors.

In training camp, all eyes will be on redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch, a 6-foot, 204-pounder who has the breakaway speed that has been missing from this position in recent years. He should be a great change-of-pace from Zwinak.

The wild card here is Bill Belton, a junior who began the 2012 season as the starter but sustained a high ankle sprain in the opener. He missed the next three games and -- for the most part - seemed to be a hesitant runner for the rest of the season.

Belton stepped away from most team activities in the summer to concentrate on academics, but is back in good standing in that area and is with the Lions in training camp. He is so versatile, having played running back, receiver and even wildcat QB in his PSU career, that a creative coach like O'Brien will surely find a way to use him. The key will be regaining the confidence he had before the injury.

Penn State does not have the sort of do-it-all fullback it had in Michael Zordich last season. That's not a knock on senior Pat Zerbe, who has drawn praise from O'Brien for his work ethic and leadership. But Zerbe is pretty much of an old-school, smash-mouth blocking fullback, where Zordich was unique in that he could block, yet also catch passes and run the ball.

The bottom line: expect to see less of the fullback this year and more sets where O'Brien has two of his running backs on the field at the same time.

Projected first-teamers:

RB: Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch, Bill Belton

FB: Pat Zerbe

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