Heading into last season, there were questions at running back. Could Evan Royster handle full time duty?
Would Stephfon Green be as good as reports from practice in 2007 made him out to be? And could anyone replace the loss of fullback Matt Hahn?
All those questions were answered with a resounding, "Yes."
Royster showed the same patient running style with 20 carries in a game, as he did in 2007 with just five a game.
Green provided a perfect compliment to Royster's patient running style with his 4.2 speed. And fullback Dan Lawlor was one of the best fullbacks I've seen in a while at Penn State.
If I had to describe the running game in 2008 with one word it would be consistency.
The offensive line consistently provided holes that a truck could drive through, Lawlor consistently guided the way, Royster consistently showed patience following his blockers to an average of 6.5 yards per carry, and Green consistently provided the perfect change of pace to Royster.
But just like last season, there will be a few questions regarding the running backs heading into the 2009 season.
What We Know
Penn State brings back four running backs with worthwhile game experience. Juniors Brent Carter and Evan Royster, and sophomores Brandon Beachum and Stephfon Green.
Michael Zordich, who most felt was the sure-fire 2009 starting fullback, is nowhere to be seen on the fullback depth chart, but rather buried on the middle linebacker depth chart. This leaves sophomore Joe Suhey as the likely starter at fullback.
Will all the injuries be fully healed by the start of the season?
By the end of the 2009 Rose Bowl, Penn State was down to one running back, Brandon Beachum. Carter tore his right ACL against Wisconsin in October and was obviously lost for the season.
Royster and Green both were injured against USC in the Rose Bowl. Green broke bones in his lower right leg and ankle that required surgery, and Royster sprained his knee. Due to all the injuries only Royster and Beachum participated in spring practice.
Report From Spring Practice
Royster, along with Clark, this year has received minimal time in full contact drills because he's too valuable to the team. Although he appeared to be in mid-season form during the Blue and White game running the ball three time for 21 yards.
Beachum made his case this spring to share time on the field come fall, by showing a great combination of size and speed.
The surprise of the spring was Suhey. He showed good power for a small-framed fullback, but I don't know if he'll be able to throw blocks like the past couple fullbacks at Penn State.
Freshman to Watch
The chances of Curtis Dukes seeing the field in 2009 are pretty slim with four upperclassmen running backs in front of him, and he'll probably redshirt.
But he's a freak of nature at 6'2" and 235 with a 4.5 forty. I'm sure we'll hear stories about him during practices in his freshman year like we did with Green.
Projected Three Deep (Starter-Backup-Backup)
RB: Evan Royster-Stephfon Green-Brandon Beachum
FB: Joe Suhey-Shaine Thompson-Larry Federoff
Royster is a very good running back, and has popped up on watch lists for All-American, Doak Walker, and even Heisman for 2009.
As long as he stays healthy the running game will be successful this year. That said, Green's change of pace and better hands are very important for the offense.
The experienced running backs will be responsible to take some of the heat off of the inexperienced wide receivers that I'll hit on next Tuesday.