Nittany Notes: Running Backs

After breaking down the entire Penn State defense, we now shift our attention to the offensive side of the ball. We start with the running backs. Get up to speed with the latest edition of our exclusive Nittany Notes.

Earlier this week the Nittany Lions held an NFL-style combine which had the players participate in events like the 40-yard dash (hand timed), vertical leap, shuttle run and 3-cone "L" drill. Our exclusive report on the results really turned some heads as Stephfon Green stole the show with a 4.25-second hand-timed 40-yard dash. As one observer told us, "He was great off the blocks and uses his whole body to push [into] his stride."

With Green causing a stir since last off-season, many Penn State fans are anxious to see what he is capable of doing when spring ball starts later this month. In fact, there is excitement about the tailback position in general.

The unit loses Rodney Kinlaw, an unlikely workhorse for the 2007 unit. "Rod ran for over 1300 yards — and he didn't even start until the Illinois game," one observer said. "He averaged like 13 carries through the first four games. Through the last nine as a starter he averaged 21. He's one of those deceptive guys who is smaller but can carry the load. That's tough to replace."

Evan Royster

However, his backup last season, Even Royster, averaged 6.3 yards per carry, compared to Kinlaw's 5.5 yards per carry. According to another observer, "What impresses me about Evan is what he did with his carries. The guy had about a third of the carries Rodney had, yet had half as many touchdowns (five for Royster, 10 for Kinlaw) and a little under half of the yards of Rod."

Royster also missed one game and had four games where he had four or less carries.

"He's not the fastest guy out there, but he may be the sharpest," one observer explained. "Watch him when he's in the backfield; a lot of backs will get into position and put their focus right on the QB. Watch Evans' helmet — it's continually moving. He watching the defense to see what adjustments they are making. He's really looking for that weak spot where he has the best chance to pick up yards."

Royster is getting first-team reps in winter sets. In this week's 40-yard dashes he ran in the mid-4.6 second range. However, that doesn't seem to have observers too concerned. As one said, "Put the tape in of the Alamo [Bowl] game. He's looks [pretty] good on that 38-yard touchdown. Speed is one thing, and I am not going to trivialize it, but elusiveness is another. Evan understands how to use the line and really position himself to open things up with his blockers."

Stephfon Green

Behind Royster is Green, among the most anticipated PSU players in the last decade. Green recently admitted to prospects during the March 1 Junior Day event that he "pouted" most of last season while he was redshirting as a true freshman. He wanted to play so badly he was angry.

But he added that in hindsight, he was glad he did sit out, because he got faster and stronger and was able to learn the playbook. And now he has four full seasons left to play. He is, however, anxious to hit the field this spring.

"Stephfon and Evan are different types of tailbacks," one observer said. "Evan is an analyzer. The best analogy I have heard from [another observer] was comparing him the the raptors in Jurassic Park. He checks the defensive line like they checked the fence, looking for weak points. Stephf is all speed. He'll blow the doors off if he can hit a corner, but he doesn't have the control Evan has."

With a renewed perspective, Green is expected to "add a different dimension to the ground game." However, observers do want to see how he handles game situations. "Practice is one thing, but I want to see how he does against a defense looking to take your head off," one observer told us. "[Green] has a lot of hype to live up to and I just hope he has the continued determination to push himself to do it."

Joe Suhey

Rounding out the returning running backs are Joe Suhey and Brent Carter. Suhey has good acceleration through a hole, and while he does not have the top speed of Green or Royster, he is quick with his lateral movements, which allows him to to evade tacklers. Suhey ran a mid-4.7 range 40 earlier this week.

One issue he has been working on addressing is his tendency to "run high, which makes him a big target." Suhey got "clobbered" a few times last season on the scout team. "Sean Lee cleaned his clock on one run. He doesn't always use his peripheral vision to see what's coming."

He has shown an ability to fight for yardage. His size makes him tough to take down once he is wrapped up. "He could be one of those short-yardage backs. He has also shown that he can catch some balls," said one observer.

At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Carter is a big back. During the Michigan State game, Carter filled in for a bumped-up Kinlaw late and averaged 7.7 yards per tote on three carries. Carter saw action in 10 games last season, gaining 43 yards on 11 carries (3.9 YPC).

Brent Carter

Like Suhey, Carter's size presents a challenge with his running stance according to observers. "He's tall, which makes it tough for him to run low. He's easy to find in traffic and is a big guy to wrap up on."

Carter has decent speed. Earlier this week he was clocked in the 40-yard dash in the high 4.6-second range.

With the departure of Matt Hahn, Dan Lawlor is the key fullback for a unit that is very thin at the position. Lawlor saw action in eight games and took over the starting role after Hahn was sidelined with an ACL injury.

"Dan is physical and can be downright destructive with a block," one observer said. "He's not the ball carrier Matt [Hahn] was, but he's a more physical, road-grader type blocker. He can really open things up. He needs to work on his ball-handling skills, though so he can be one of those short-yardage weapons.

True freshman Brandon Beachum, who enrolled in January, has the flexibility to help Penn State at tailback or fullback. Though checking in at about 215 pounds, observers have been impressed with the strength he has shown in the weight room. He is reported to be a quiet, no-nonsense type of player.

"Beachum is good, pretty quiet guy, but so far he doing what they ask of him. He's shown pretty good strength [in conditioning sets] and could be a bruiser," according to one observer.

In high school, Beachum was known more for his powerful running style between the tackles than for his breakaway speed. He was said to run in the mid-4.7s earlier this week.

See our other recent winter progress reports:

  • Nittany Notes: Defensive Backfield
  • Nittany Notes: Defensive Tackle
  • Nittany Notes: Defensive End
  • Nittany Notes: Linebacker
  • Nittany Notes: Injury Report I
  • Nittany Notes: Injury Report II


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