As Penn State prepares to open spring practice on March 26 in Happy Valley, SB Nation Pittsburgh is breaking the roster down by position, taking a look at who the Nittany Lions have lost from last year's lineups, who they'll return and who they've added through the 2012 recruiting class. On the menu Thursday, fullbacks and running backs.
Leaving The Roster
Joe Suhey was a dangerous option out of the backfield from his fullback spot last season, catching 12 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also had a role in short yardage, picking up 51 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. His receiving numbers were down from 2010 and well down from his 21 catches in 2009, but he was still a reliable safety valve for the quarterbacks, and he will be missed.
Stephfon Green found himself in Joe Paterno's doghouse and was suspended for the first five games last season but still finished as the team's second-leading rusher with 266 yards and six touchdowns on 61 carries. He was the speediest back of the group and commanded a lot of respect in the locker room, too. It will be interesting to see if anyone is able to step in to fill those voids.
Injuries plagued Brandon Beachum in his three seasons of action. He missed five games in the middle of 2011 and was never much of a factor when he came back. One has to wonder what could have been if he'd stayed healthy.
Just a sophomore, Silas Redd was the Big Ten's fourth-leading rusher last season, racking up 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns on 244 attempts (5.1 yards per carry average). He doesn't really have much to prove this spring, so his primary concern should be getting his body ready to take another pounding after carrying at least 28 times in four games in 2011.
Michael Zordich split time with Suhey at fullback last season, picking up 30 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, and enters the spring poised to take over the starting job full-time. His focus will be on finding his role in new coach Bill O'Brien's offense and maybe developing his receiving game out of the backfield a little bit after catching just five balls in 2011.
Others Returning, Looking To Step Up
Curtis Dukes opened some eyes last season, establishing the best yards per carry average (5.8, minimum 30 carries) of any back on the team by rushing for 237 yards and a score on 41 carries. There's little doubt at this point that he can run the ball, and with some power. Paterno regularly said the rising junior has to improve his blocking, however, so look for growth in that area this spring.
Curtis Drake and Bill Belton keyed Penn State's 20-14 win at Ohio State on Nov. 19 by coming out of the backfield in wildcat formations for a combined 65 yards on seven carries. It's not clear whether O'Brien wants to incorporate those sets in his offense moving forward, but the two have shown they can get the job done running them in a difficult environment. This is a wrinkle worth keeping an eye on in spring ball.
Akeel Lynch of Athol Springs, N.Y. walks into a good situation at Penn State. He'll very likely be the Nittany Lions' No. 3 back behind Dukes and Redd right off the bat and could challenge Dukes for the No. 2 job if he's lucky. Of all 2012 recruits, he's probably one of the few that will see regular playing time. He will not be participating in spring drills, however, since he is not yet enrolled.
What To Look For In The Spring
With roles pretty much set for the fall, a quiet spring here will probably be a good spring. Penn State is talented at running back, but not particularly deep, so a bad injury would be devastating. Both Dukes and Redd could use some work on their pass blocking, but other than that, the top priority should be staying healthy. If the passing game struggles again, the offense is going to need them.
Check out Adam Bittner's other position previews.