Penn State To Use Multiple ‘Fresh Backs’ This Season
It’s safe to say Penn State football lacked depth at running back last season — at least from a statistical standpoint.
Miles Sanders got the vast majority of snaps last season and delivered with 1,274 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 220 carries. Beyond Sanders, however, none of Penn State’s other running backs posted more than 300 yards on the ground.
As a true freshman, Ricky Slade ran for 257 yards and six touchdowns, but he battled injuries throughout the season. Journey Brown recorded only 44 yards on the ground. Both are in the midst of a tight position battle for the starting job. Given how competitive the fight is, lack of depth doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Nittany Lions this season.
“We have some guys in this program that can play,” running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said. “We were a little depth-deprived last year. This year, we have [Slade and Brown] that we feel really good about and [early enrollee Noah Cain] starting to grow up.”
The Nittany Lions’ running backs coach is happy with how both Slade and Brown have performed so far this spring, although neither he nor James Franklin has given much of an edge to either guy.
On the one hand, Slade is already building upon his small, but solid performances as a true freshman.
“His body is different. He’s starting to put that college weight on him,” Seider said. “The stuff that we worried about earlier — like blocking and breaking tackles — he’s starting to take that on.”
On the other hand, despite only getting eight carries last season, Brown is already playing with more confidence and like a “deer in headlights” according to his coach. That increased level of comfort will allow Brown to break loose with his “game-changing” speed, as Seider describes it.
Right behind them is Cain, who has been earning reps and catching his new coaches’ and teammates’ attention since spring practice began. And once camp begins, fellow freshman Devyn Ford will bring even more talent and options.
“[Ford] is watching practice on his iPad and hitting me back with a ton of notes and questions. He’s a student of the game,” Seider said. “He’s got a ‘Saquon’ mentality. He doesn’t know how good he is because he’s always asking questions.”
With plenty of options at running back position next season, Seider said he is planning on splitting carries among multiple players. He believes the team needs to make the transition to that from a top-heavy team in the run game.
“This season is so long — it’s a lot of wear and tear on these guys,” Seider said. “The fresher we can get those guys to be towards the end of the season, the better we’re going to be — especially when the weather changes and we want to pound the ball a little bit more.”
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