Although it’s only February, it’s not too early to begin thinking about the next season of Penn State football. With spring practice less than two months away, VBR will take an early look at each position for the Nittany Lions in 2014. This preview will include returning players and any freshmen who could make an impact in 2014. Of course, a more in-depth preview of each position will be done in August before the start of the season.
Next up is another position on the Penn State offense that looks very solid going into next season: running back.
The Nittany Lions return their top three rushers from the 2013 season in Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. There is a lot of experience between Zwinak and Belton (both are seniors) and Lynch saw action in seven games as a redshirt freshman last year. Zwinak fell only 11 yards shy of a second consecutive 1,000 yard season, Belton had 803 rushing yards and Lynch ran for 358 yards while averaging six yards per carry.
Zwinak and Belton both saw time as a starter last season, so it’s safe to say that those two will compete for the starting job throughout the spring and summer. And with Christian Hackenberg already having a year of experience with handing the ball off to these guys, his chemistry with them should be even better in 2014.
However, one concern that came up too often in 2013 for these Penn State running backs was holding onto the football. You can bet that new running backs coach Charles Huff will heavily emphasize hanging onto the ball leading up to the 2014 season opener against UCF in Ireland.
In terms of freshmen, the 2014 recruiting class has three running backs. Mark Allen from powerhouse DeMatha Catholic in Maryland and Nick Scott of Fairfax, VA were actually the first and second players to commit in this 2014 class, respectively. The other incoming freshman running back is Johnathan Thomas from St. John’s Prep in Danvers, MA (Bill O’Brien’s alma mater). Due to Penn State’s solid depth at running back this upcoming season, it looks like at least two of these three freshmen will redshirt. If Zwinak, Belton and/or Lynch go down with a serious injury, maybe one of these three will see some playing time.
New offensive coordinator John Donovan will definitely have plenty to work with in the backfield. The versatility that Zwinak (power), Belton (misdirection) and Lynch (a little bit of both) bring to the table will be crucial in order for the Penn State offense to have success in 2014.