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Spring Football Preview: Running Backs

On April 18, the Penn State football team will take the field for their annual Blue/White scrimmage. In the midst of spring practice, and headed into the spring game, we'll be taking a closer look at all of the position groups. Up next: Running Backs

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Adam previewed the offensive line and how they might be able to improve on last season's absolute tire fire of a performance. Okay, maybe 'tire fire' is being a little too kind, perhaps this analogy would be more fitting, considering that poor O-line play led to some historically putrid rushing production in 2014. Just how putrid, you might ask? A program that once saw Larry Johnson run for over 2,000 yards by himself managed merely 1,325 total rushing yards as a team last year, an average of 2.94 yards per carry. This rushing performance was good enough for 117th in total rushing yards out of 125 FBS college football teams, ahead of juggernauts such as SMU, Miami (OH), Georgia State, Southern Miss, Kent State, UL Monroe, Wake Forest, and Washington State, respectively.

Even a slightly more improved O-line could go a long way towards helping PSU re-discovering the ground game for 2015. That, and a healthy stable of running backs. Speaking of which....

Key Departures: Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak

Yes, they both took huge steps back last season, through little fault of their own (see: Line, Offensive). Both Belton and Zwinak however, deserve nothing but the utmost of respect and admiration for deciding to stick it out at Penn State during the darkest of times and through three different coaching staffs. Plus, Belton was responsible for one of the top plays of 2014, a school record for longest running touchdown at Indiana, which helped save PSU from a morale-killing, season-crushing defeat. Zwinak was buried on the depth chart at the beginning of the 2012 season but eventually went from fourth string to the star running back on the team, playing an integral role in Bill O'Brien's Patriots-style offense and being a guy who could get those few extra yards on carries.

Likely Definite Starter: Akeel Lynch

Quite possibly the only thing more inevitable than Hillary Clinton announcing her run for President, Mr. Lynch is going to be getting the bulk of the carries this Fall, which means you're not going to see a whole of lot of action from him this upcoming Saturday. Not that he needs to prove anything at this point, given the way he burst onto the scene midway through last season, sharing the load of carries with Belton before becoming the starter, himself to the point where Belton got one series in the Pinstripe Bowl and the rest was up to Akeel. The Canadian's combo of power and speed was a much-talked about thing when he initially signed with PSU a few years ago but for a while, his run blocking was an area of major weakness. Look for him to step up in the blocking aspect of his position, as well.

Primary Backups: Jonathan Thomas, Nick Scott, Mark Allen

Before being limited in spring practices due to injuries, Thomas was gaining high praise from the coaching staff going as far back as being on the scout team last season while redshirting as a true freshman. Thomas is more in the mold of a Curtis Dukes (remember him?) tough to bring down and will just run right at you instead of around you. Scott and Allen have also been receiving their fair share of hype and one has to figure they will get their share of carries this Saturday. Scott is said to be a combination of power and speed (similar to the mold of Lynch) and Allen at 5'7" is that short, shifty, elusive tailback with a low center of gravity who isn't the easiest to bring down.

Incoming Freshman To Keep An Eye On: Saquon Barkley

He won't be arriving on campus until later this Summer, but one of the most heralded members of PSU's incoming freshman class could very well end up earning himself playing time behind Lynch if his frame and speed immediately translate to the college level. Hell, his own school record-breaking 10.74 100-meter dash confirms his speediness.