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2021 Spring Position Preview: Running Back

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Can you have too many hosses?

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our spring preview by visiting one of the deeper positions on the roster: running back.

This time last year, Journey Brown was your clear starter, with Noah Cain a very comfortable #2.

My, how much can change in a year.

The Starter(s) - Keyvone Lee OR Noah Cain

Since this is the spring preview, I am going to say at this point in time that Keyvone Lee will be your #1 RB for the Blue-White Game. Lee was a true freshman in 2020, and battled with Devyn Ford and fellow freshman Caziah Holmes after both Journey Brown and Noah Cain succumbed to medical retirement and injury, respectively, early in 2020.

In 2020, after eventually assuming the #1 RB mantle, Lee posted respectable stats - 89 rushes for 438 yards, 4.9 yards a pop, and four touchdowns. He added in 12 receptions for another 66 yards as well. Lee isn’t a speedster, at least not yet, but has that extra grit and wiggle you love to see in a running back, routinely picking up just a little bit of extra yardage on each touch.

In that regard, he’s not all that dissimilar from the presumptive RB #1B, Noah Cain. Cain is almost guaranteed not to play this spring. In the first series of the first game of 2020, Noah suffered a leg injury, and has been sidelined ever since.

That being said, when the fall does roll around (and as long as he’s healthy), I fully expect to see the big bold OR label between Lee and Cain when the Lions take the field against Wisconsin. Cain is more of a north-south bruiser, and just like Lee, will always seem to fall forward for just an extra yard or two on each carry.

The Backups - Devyn Ford and Caziah Holmes

Devyn Ford has had a somewhat up and down career at Penn State. All told, he’s put up 119 carries for 568 yards, and six touchdowns, to go with 12 receptions for 54 yards. Coming into 2020, Ford was the clear #3 behind Brown and Cain. Coming into 2021, Ford... is the not-so-clear #3 behind Lee and Cain.

Despite being the elder statesman of the 2020 group, and being given first crack at the starting gig in 2020 after Cain’s injury, Ford just hasn’t been able to take a firm hold on the position. He’s a solid player, to be sure, but if he doesn’t take a sizable step coming into 2021, he may see his playing time diminish further.

Sitting next to Devyn on the bench is Caziah Holmes, who worked in the three-man rotation with Ford and Lee in 2020. Holmes played well, toting the rock 51 times for 227 yards, and chipping in with six receptions for 37 yards. However, despite his efforts, Lee just was the more consistent of the two freshmen, and Holmes saw himself sitting more and more as the #2 RB in 2020. With the (hopeful) return of Cain, that #2 may become a #3.

The Dark Horse - John Lovett

James Franklin hit the transfer portal hard this off season, and managed to nab John Lovett from Baylor. Lovett, a true senior, put together three very good seasons for the Bears, before a so-so 2020 season. Over his career in the Big 12, John has accumulated 355 carries for 1,803 yards and 17 touchdowns, plus 29 receptions for 183 yards and another score.

Lovett is hands down the most experienced running back on the Penn State roster, and it’s hopeful that he will push pretty much everyone ahead of him on the depth chart.

Iron sharpens iron they say, and this group should be able to make each other better as they progress from winter workouts into spring practice, and ultimately through the summer before the season starts against the Badgers.