Entering the 2018 season, the Nittany Lions were looking to replace Saquon Barkley who was off to the NFL after completing one of the greatest careers in Penn State history. His replacement, Miles Sanders, exceeded all expectations, playing his way into being a possible 1st round pick in the NFL Draft later this month. Now, James Franklin and running backs coach JaJuan Seider will once again be looking to replace an NFL-bound running back. Up to the task? Sure seems like it.
Ricky Slade (So.)/Journey Brown (RS So.)
While this may change by the time Idaho comes to town on August 31st, right now there is no clear cut starter at the position. As things currently stand, Slade and Brown are battling it out for the role as the team’s primary back.
In nine games as a true freshman last fall, Slade showed why he was a five-star recruit in high school. On 45 carries, Slade averaged 5.7 yards per carry and scored 6 touchdowns. His elite acceleration and burst were on display when he got on the field — most notably, against Maryland.
As for Brown, the PIAA 100-meter record holder played in eight games in 2018. He finished the season with 44 yards on 8 carries, and he scored his first career touchdown against Illinois. Late in the season, Brown was also trusted in pass protection on third down.
The battle between the two is expected to go beyond the spring, but the Blue-White game will give each a bigger platform to show why they should be the number one back.
Noah Cain (Fr.): Another reason why running back appears to be just fine despite losing Sanders is the true freshman. Cain was an early-enrollee and has been on campus since January. It can not be overstated how big of an advantage this is for Cain.
Cain is a different back than Slade and Brown. At 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, Cain is more of a power back than the other two, potentially giving the Nittany Lions a weapon down on the goal line or in short yardage situations. That isn’t to say that Cain is only a power back, as he showed to be a strong receiver at IMG Academy, too.
C.J. Holmes (RS So.): Holmes is an intriguing option for 2019. The former Notre Dame running back transferred to Penn State as a walk-on prior to the start of the 2018 season, and then sat the season out due to NCAA transfer rules.
While the role Holmes will play in the 2019 offense is in flux, he should be a key special teams contributor for the Nittany Lions this fall. On top of playing running back, he could also contribute to the offense as a slot receiver this fall. After all, the Nittany Lions recruited him as an athlete back in high school.
Devyn Ford (Fr.): Ford is not on campus yet and will not participate in the Blue-White Game. However, I would be doing him a disservice if he was not mentioned.
There’s a reason why Ford was one of the top running back recruits in the country in the 2019 cycle. He is explosive, elusive, and a great receiver out of the backfield. If Ford was an early enrollee, him getting the green light to play as a true freshman would be close to slam dunk. However, since he will not arrive on campus until this summer, he may be more of a yellow light.