New Hampshire DB Jake Kiley Commits to Penn State
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States like New Hampshire are often overlooked by college recruiters scouring the northeast. With a population of a little over 1.3 million (barely 14.5% of the population of New York City), the talent pool in …

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Position Profile: Running Backs

Submitted by on August 26, 20102 Comments

With less than two weeks until Penn State takes on Youngstown State, the mixing and matching of the spring and summer is starting to die down.  The starting lineup and rotation is mostly set, and we’re taking a look as just how each position stacks up. We start with a look at running back, where Evan Royster will be expected to put the offense on his shoulders.

Last Year: Evan Royster led the Lions with 1169 rushing yards and 6 TD, to go along with a 5.9 yards per carry average. Stephfon Green rushed for 319 yards and 3 TD on 4.5 YPC.

Key Losses: Brent Carter (12 carries, 46 yards, 1 TD)chose not to return for his senior year. Brandon Beachum (24, 113, 1) is taking a redshirt after a torn ACL suffered in last year’s Indiana game.

Newcomers: True freshman Silas Redd, redshirt freshman Curtis Dukes

Overview: As Evan Royster goes, so go the Nittany Lions.  At least, that was the case last year.  In Penn State’s 10 regular season wins in 2009, Royster averaged 99.9 yards per game, and averaged more than 6.3 yards per carry.  But against Iowa and Ohio State, Royster managed a total of just 105 yards, on 3.5 yards per carry.  Those struggles in primetime games may well have contributed to his decision to return for his senior season, forgoing the NFL draft.

Now, that’s attributable to a lot more than just Evan Royster–it’s not like the line was creating too many gaping holes against the Hawkeyes or Buckeyes.  It’s not exactly a surprise that Royster’s difficulties in big games mirrored those of Daryll Clark and, well, the rest of the offense–but it’s certainly contributing to the idea that Royster isn’t a “big game” running back.

I secretly believe that there are, in fact, two Evan Roysters. One Evan Royster plays like absolute crap against opponents with a pulse.

Look, Royster has never been a flashy player.  He’s not going to break too many tackles, juke defenders out of their shoes, or beat a linebacker to the corner and take it the distance.  He’s much more of a patient runner, who waits for holes to develop, finds the right seam, and falls forward, avoiding the big hit.  It’s really a Curtis Martin-esque quality, where Royster will just pick up yards in bunches and rarely get stopped at the line.

In 2008, when Penn State’s offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, we saw Evan Royster doing that even against the Buckeyes, when he averaged a respectable four yards per carry–and seemed to get those four yards each time he touched the ball.  But when those holes aren’t there, the very nature of Royster’s game will make him seem timid and indecisive.  Royster can’t succeed without an offensive line that isn’t at holding its own.  As we head into the 2010 season, Penn State seems determined to go with an offensive line that features no starters from a year ago, at least not at the same position (Stefen Wisniewski is returning to guard, and Lou Eliades kicking out to RT).  Penn State might not need Cadogan, Shipley, and Ohrnberger, but for Evan Royster to succeed, they’ll have to get more out of the 2010 unit than last year’s, especially as they lean more heavily on the run game.

After Royster, the rest of the pieces are largely complementary.  Stephfon Green has tremendous athleticism and quickness, but has too often been asked to run between the tackles as opposed to utilizing his speed by getting the ball in space. Remember, the first time Green ever touched the ball for the Nittany Lions, he broke off an 80-yard run in the 2008 Blue/White Game.  Green may also factor into the return game this year, especially as Penn State hopes to improve on their god-awful special teams output from a year ago.  Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes have yet to see the field, but both have impressed observers–Redd with his strength and shiftyness and Dukes with his 6-1, 237 pound frame.  Nonetheless, this is now Evan Royster’s team–expect to see him named a captain–and, barring injury, Green, Redd, and Dukes will be playing second, third, and fourth fiddle.

Three Questions:

1. Can Evan Royster handle the increased workload? Only three times in his Penn State career has Evan Royster carried the ball more than 20 times in a single game.  But with the graduation of Daryll Clark and question marks surrounding the passing game, I expect that number to be doubled this year alone.  That is, if Royster doesn’t break down under the stress of being “the guy” in the new-look Lions offense.  Don’t expect to see him play more than the absolute minimum in games like the Youngstown State and Kent State matchups.  But if he relishes the new role and succeeds, the dividends could be huge.

2. Will the running backs step up in the passing game? The best option for an untested quarterback is a check-down receiver, and that’s where Andrew Quarless helped out last year.  Now, with an unsettled lineup at tight end, and an injury to slot receiver Curtis Drake, the backs may be asked to help out and catch some passes.  Last year, Evan Royster caught 16 balls and Joe Suhey 21, but those numbers could increase as Penn State tightens the reins on whichever first-year QB is under center.  Stephfon Green has looked more than capable taking screen passes, and could see his role grow in the passing game.

3. How quickly will Silas Redd work his way into the rotation? Redd enrolled early so that he could learn the playbook and get some practice reps in, and it seems to have worked.  During the Blue/White Game, Redd managed 29 yards on 5 touches, and showed flashes of future greatness.  Everyone who’s watched Redd play has come away an unabashed fan, and by 2011, he could be Penn State’s primarily ball carrier.  Penn State hasn’t leaned too heavily on freshman backs, though, and Redd is buried behind Royster and Green on the depth chart.  Still, early season tilts against overmatched opponents promise plenty of playing time for Redd, where he could make a significant impression on the coaching staff and fanbase.

Extra Bonus Question: In which game will Evan Royster break Curt Warner’s record and become Penn State’s #1 all-time rusher?  Royster enters 2010 just 480 yards behind Warner.  Leave your answer in the comments.  Pick it right and win…absolutely nothing.

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  • Reddfan

    “He’s not going to break too many tackles, juke defenders out of their shoes, or beat a linebacker to the corner and take it the distance” But Silas Redd is. Once this season is under way and finds himself with the ball in his hand, I am pretty sure he will simply amaze people. He plays better under pressure and is the type of player that will leave everything on the field. Get ready Big Ten, here comes Silas Redd.

  • Antoinelingard

    just give the kid a shot and the penn state fans will be amaze with the speed and power that he hads football runs threw his veins remember he a true freshmen he is only going to get better so big ten get ready. His last name is redd but he wear blue and white!!!!!