EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of our annual position preview series. Be sure to check back over the next couple of weeks as we preview the rest of the positions in the lead-up to the 2020 season.
In 2019, Penn State’s strongest position group on offense was unquestionably their running backs, and in 2020, they return all but one contributor and add in a blue-chip from Florida. Feeling pretty...pretty...pretty good.
The Departures: Nick Eury and Ricky Slade
Eury graduated in four years (seeing the field in 2017 and 2019, including a career-best eight carries for 44 yards against Idaho. Slade began 2019 as the starter, but had issues with holding onto the ball, and was replaced by a combination of Noah Cain and Journey Brown. He had three plays of more than 40 yards during the campaign, a 40-yard catch against Pitt, and 44-yard runs against both Michigan in the Whiteout, and Memphis in the Cotton Bowl. Slade announced his desire to transfer in February.
The Additions: Caziah Holmes, Keyvone Lee, and Tank Smith
Smith is listed here because the aptly named 5’7’’, 220-lb back redshirted in 2019. He would be an interesting (and enjoyable) short yardage back. Holmes is more of a speed back out of Titusville, Florida, and despite the talent ahead of him, is expected to push for playing time at some point in the season. Perhaps he gets a crack at kick returner with his 4.4 speed. Fellow first-year Floridian Keyvone Lee may also see the field, but more likely will only appear in the four games permitted while still being eligible for a redshirt. He is a bigger back, and could develop nicely into a Cain-like build down the line.
Most teams are lucky enough to have one top-tier running back, which Penn State does in Journey Brown, who exploded in the second half of 2019 after Cain’s injury against Michigan State. Brown’s speed and often-forgotten strength make him a special runner. Then there is the aforementioned Cain, who was the team’s top carrier early in the season, and is more of a bruiser who also has agility. We can’t forget about Devyn Ford, who is more of a speed back. Simply put, Penn State is blessed with arguably the best backfield in the Big Ten. It’s going to be fun to see how JaJuan Seider uses and rotates Brown, Cain, Ford, and the three freshman-eligible players to control the ball, punish the defense, and perhaps most importantly, take the pressure off of quarterback Sean Clifford.