Looking Ahead: Running Backs/Fullbacks

Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE

A brief look at the Penn State backfield heading into 2013, and beyond.

A way-too-early position preview series; included are scholarship and verbally committed Class of 2013 players, while run-on players have been left out of the previews.

Warm Bodies: Zach Zwinak (RS Jun.), Bill Belton (Jun.), Akeel Lynch (RS Fresh.), Richy Anderson (Fresh.)

Outlook: Penn State returns the majority of its 2012 production, though Michael Zordich's 300 yards, four touchdowns, and one phenomenal mustache will definitely be missed. Each of these running backs brings something special to the table, and each of the top three backs on the depth chart should keep defenses guessing.

Dukes has been nothing short of a mystery during his Penn State tenure. A thundering back who has shown flashes of greatness, Dukes simply hasn't been able to earn the regular carries that many thought he'd see four years ago. He saw action in nine games, but nothing over the final three games of the season. Dukes finished 2012 with 26 carries for 98 yards, good for a 3.77ypc average. The projected Thunder moniker never seemed to stick, for one reason or another, and with more talented backs on the roster, Dukes' redshirt senior season will likely end like the rest, with minimal carries and disappointment. Dukes has decided to hang up his cleats, and forego his senior season. Best of luck to you in all your future endeavors, Curtis.

Zwinak eventually emerged as the lead dog in the running back race in 2012, and should continue that run (literally) in 2013. 1000 yards on 203 carries (a hair under 5.0ypc), ZZ had six 100-yard rushing games, including the last four of the season. Six rushing touchdowns, 20 receptions, and one receiving touchdown round out this talented rusher's stats, who battled injuries before establishing himself as the starter in 2012. ZZ is a powerful back, who routinely turned a one-yard rush into a five-yard gain, with a motor that just doesn't seem to quit. He doesn't possess top end speed, but if he can keep up his average rushing numbers, he should put up some pretty solid numbers in 2013, as well.

Belton was something of an enigma in 2012, combining outstanding showings (see the Iowa game) with some mediocre performances. Penn State fans have been waiting for him to consistently show off the speed and skill that he is capable of, and Belton certainly has the potential of being the speed back to compliment Zwinak. However, he'll need to work on some of the mechanics of running the ball, including carrying the ball a bit more tightly to his body. Belton, like Dukes, is a candidate to take advantage of the "free agency" period allowed of Penn State players this offseason, but nothing so far suggests that he will leave Penn State.

Lynch, a highly touted back out of New York, burned his redshirt in 2012 thanks to a crowded stable of running backs. With Zordich gone and Dukes not likely to contribute much, Lynch can push to split time with Zwinak and Belton. The redshirt also created more even separation among the running backs, which means Lynch could continue to learn behind ZZ and BB for a couple of years before taking over the backfield for himself. Though, if the reports of his talents are true, both out of high school and out of practice in 2012, Lynch might steal some additional carries in 2013. Who he takes those from, though, remains to be seen.

Anderson, son of former Nittany Lion Richie Anderson, is a pretty much assured a redshirt in 2013, barring an injury or transfer by one of the three backs ahead of him. Give him a year with Craig Fitzgerald and another year of separation from Lynch and others, and look for Anderson in 2014. Anderson could also see time at wide receiver, but a redshirt season will decide that.

As for fullbacks, O'Brien has stated that he'll continue to use the position, but each of these five scholarship players are better suited for the tailback slot. Run-ons like Pat Zerbe may be used to lead the way, but these guys won't make much of an impact on the stat sheet.

Projected 2013 Depth Chart: 1) Zwinak 2) Belton 3) Lynch 4) Anderson

Names to Watch: One running back is already committed to Penn State in the Class of 2014, and with scholarships limited, especially for skill positions, it would be surprising to see another back join this class. But these are some possibilities: Mark Allen (DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, MD) (Committed to PSU)), Myles Autry (Norcross HS (Norcross, GA)), Jonathan Hilliman (St. Peters Prep (Jersey City, NJ))

QB - RB/FB - WR - TE - OL - DT - DE - LB - DB - ST


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