Penn State 2012 Position Previews: Running Backs

Bill Belton may (rightfully) get a large share of the press going into this season, but Zach Zwinak is one of a number of players looking to make a difference out of the offensive backfield in 2012.

...Running backs have a certain look to them. Most running backs range in size between 5'9", and 5'11", unless it's Danny Woodhead who is a special case, or Adrian Peterson who is a big dude. But most guys are 5'11". They're built. They're muscular; they're built low to the ground. We notice that right away.

...I said [to Belton] ‘You went with the receivers’ and I said ‘Where you going?’ He said ‘I'm a receiver.’ ‘No, you're a running back.’ So we put him at running back, and he showed us he has really good feet. He's got a unique ability to be able to balance, put his hand on the ground and balance himself and spin. He's done a much better job– knock on wood– in the first three days of ball security. He has really good hands out of the backfield. So I feel good about Billy.

I think he's grown up in the last six or seven months. I think Charles London has done a heck of a job coaching him. Can he carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game? I think he can. Fitzy's [Craig Fitzgerald] got him ready to go to take the pounding in the Big Ten, but we have other backs that we think can help us too. Derek Day. Dukes has shown some good things early in preseason camp, and Akeel Lynch, the freshman, is going to be a decent player. So we've got a lot of guys back there.

Coach Bill O'Brien at Penn State Media Days, 8/9/2012

O'Brien's confident about our running backs, and who am I to argue with the head coach? We may have lost our star, but there's no shortage of talent in our offensive backfield, starting with the next anointed breakout player.

More 2012 Position Previews…
Running Backs (Cari) - 8.13.12
Linebackers (Mike) - 8.14.12
Defensive Tackles (Jared) - 8.15.12
Special Teams (Tim) - 8.16.12
Offensive Line (bscaff) - 8.17.12
Tight Ends (Devon) - 8.20.12
Defensive Ends (Jared) - 8.21.12
Wide Receivers (Dan) - 8.22.12
Quarterbacks (Jeff) - 8.23.12
Defensive Backs (Cari) - 8.24.12

The Starters

Bill Belton TB (1), SO

Belton, playing primarily wide receiver and in the wildcat formation last year, was moved to tailback this spring. His debut in blue and white was last year at Temple, and he played 71 plays all season. He played in eight games, notching 65 yards on thirteen carries.

In the spring's Blue/White game, Belton ran for 50 yards on 7 carries and one touchdown, and caught one pass for 11 yards. Before the departure of last year's starter, Belton was expected to contribute on special teams in returning kicks, but due to depth issues that plan may not come to fruition. He is listed specifically as a tailback on the official team roster.

Belton was named specifically by Coach O'Brien as an exceptional underclass leader on this year's team.

Michael Zordich FB (9), SR

Zordich, one of the strongest leaders on the 2012 team, may be listed as a running back on the official team roster, but most know where his strengths lie. He's the only fullback listed on the post-spring depth chart, and will be instrumental in opening up holes and protecting the ball carrier on offense.

Without help from his preseason mustache, Zordich was still an impact player in 2011, playing in every game and starting two. He ran for 30 yards and two touchdowns, and caught five passes for 31 yards. There was also this:

He also played a big role on special teams, racking up nine tackles, six solo. He was counted as on the field for 443 snaps last year.

The Backups

Derek Day RB (24), SR

Day grew up just outside of State College, in Bellefonte, and is scheduled to graduate from Penn State in December #culture. He saw action in twelve of the thirteen games last season, registering 27 yards on seven carries, and one pass for 13 yards. He also became a force on special teams, tallying eight tackles and one forced fumble. He had seen time in 2010 in every game on special teams, and looks to continue to make an impact there in 2012 as well.

Curtis Dukes TB (26), RS JR

After sitting out in the spring for academic reasons, Dukes looks to bounce back this fall. Penn State fans have been hoping for and expecting more out of Dukes since his arrival in Happy Valley, but reported cases of butterfingers and poor pass blocking led to diminished playing time in 2011.

Often touted as the thunder to other runners' lightning, Dukes is a big, bruising back who ran for 237 yards on 41 carries a year ago, for a ypc of 5.8. He also notched one touchdown and caught two passes for 18 yards last year.

Zach Zwinak TB (40), RS SO

Zwinak was looking to challenge for playing time right away, but a torn ACL as a true freshman in 2010 put those hopes to rest. Now fully rehabbed, Zwinak saw time at both tailback and fullback in the spring, and ran for 37 yards and one touchdown in the Blue/White game. He is expected to play a big part in pass protection, and may provide depth behind Zordich in a dual role.

The Wildcard

Akeel Lynch RB (22), FR

Lynch reaffirmed his commitment to the Nittany Lions after flirting with transferring to Iowa, and he looks to challenge for immediate playing time this year. The 4 and 3 star freshman from New York originally had committed to Boston College before receiving his offer from Penn State.

During his senior year of high school, Lynch ran 213 times for 2131 yards--a ypc of more than 10. He also has blazing speed, displayed as a member of his high school track team. Reports are that he's been pretty impressive in limited time in preseason camp this year.

Stay tuned tomorrow, when Mike looks at the next in line for "Linebacker U".


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