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Penn State Position Battles: Backup Running Back

Who will be backing up Penn State starting running back Miles Sanders this fall?

NCAA Football: Maryland at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

With Miles Sanders expected to be the starting running back come next fall, James Franklin and his offense staff are looking for their backup running back to help alleviate the work load for Sanders next season.

Currently, there are five options for the Lions on the roster this spring but when considering Christopher Welde and Nick Eury are most likely looking at scout team roles this fall, that narrows it down to a trio of running backs. The three running backs jockeying for the back up spot this spring are Mark Allen, Journey Brown, and Jonathan Thomas.

It’s also worth mentioning that five-star running back recruit Ricky Slade will enroll this summer and is expected by most to see playing time come this fall.

Mark Allen:

A redshirt senior, Allen has seen playing time in each of the last three seasons but saw a career low in rushing attempts and yards last season, with just nine carries for 38-yards. The drop in playing time was mostly due to the emergence of Miles Sanders, but now that Sanders is the featured back, Allen has a chance to once again to have a bigger presence in the backfield.

Despite being rather undersized, standing at 5-foot-6 and 187-pounds, Allen has shown the traits over his career so far that can make him a quality back up running back and can be an effective weapon on offense for the Nittany Lions. But how much can he take physically which may be the biggest limitation in to how much of an impact he will have.

For his career, Allen has 65 carries for 251-yards and two touchdowns. His career yards per carry of 3.9 isn’t the greatest but considering the state of the Lions offensive line his first two seasons, it’s not all too surprising. Allen has also saw his yards per carry slightly increase each of the last three seasons.

Allen may have the most experience of the three options but he won’t be able to win the back up job easily this spring.

Journey Brown:

Brown spent last season on the practice squad and was impressive according to both the coaching staff and the limited time that the media was able to see him throughout the season.

The former high school track and field standout has blazing speed which will could make him a huge play threat whenever he touches the field. While Saquon Barkley was the most athletically and physically gifted player to arguably ever come through the program, Brown is pretty gifted himself and could earn a great amount of praise once he steps on the field

At 5-foot-11, and 197-pounds, Brown is big enough to withstand punishment from Big Ten quality defensive lineman and linebackers throughout a season. If he can show the ability to be a quality pass blocker and be a decent threat in the passing game, Brown could see a good amount of playing time this upcoming fall and challenge Sanders for carries.

Jonathan Thomas:

Thomas could be considered the “wildcard” of the group this spring as Franklin even described the redshirt senior running back as a player who could have a Troy Apke like season in 2018.

Since arriving on campus in 2014, Thomas hasn’t had the chance to make an impact on the field as the coaching staff has moved him from running back to linebacker and back to running back. Now that he’s back at running back full-time for the 2018 season, Thomas could finally have a chance to make an impact despite not having a carry since the 2015 season when he had 11-carries for 42-yards.

Thomas has strong size for a running back 5-foot-11 and 215-pounds and offers a different skill set from the other two running backs mentioned in Mark Allen and Journey Brown. While they rely on their speed, Thomas is more of a physical back who will be able to break through tackles and won’t kill defenses with his speed.