The most impressive performance during Penn State's annual Blue-White spring game came from a relatively unknown walk-on who happens to play a position that's easily the Nittany Lions' deepest.
Sophomore running back Cole Chiappialle had nine carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Blue team to a 37-0 victory over the White team. For a kid who had only a couple Division II scholarship offers coming out of high school, that's quite the stat line.
He looked very patient on his runs, waiting for holes to open up and exploding through them. At 5'8" and 197 pounds, Chiappialle has a thick, compact frame that allows him to absorb initial contact and fight for extra yards. He may be small, but he's tough.
It's hard to question that Chiappialle made a case for playing time with his performance. But with how loaded Penn State's backfield already is, where exactly does he fit in?
Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch make up one of the Big Ten's deepest and most talented running back corps. Even while talent abounds at the position, there's still a way for Chiappialle to find the field given the type of running back he is.
One of the easily identifiable characteristics of his game is that Chiappialle is a north-south runner. He's more comparable to Zwinak than he is to Belton or Lynch, giving Penn State a balance of running backs that do different things.
PennLive's David Jones pointed this out, noting that Chiappialle could play a critical role in different stages of the game come the fall:
Chiappialle’s compass has no east or west, only south, as in straight downhill. He conceivably could be a change-up back in the manner of a diminutive Zwinak, someone to insert for a few carries against tiring defenses in the second or fourth quarters, a clock eater who won’t get tricky and, hopefully, hangs onto the ball no matter the hits absorbed.
Sure, Chiappialle was able to star in the spring game because the other three backs received little to no playing time. But that doesn't take away from his accomplishment—or the fact that he already had a tremendous spring prior to the Blue-White game.
Head coach James Franklin recently mentioned Chiappialle's name during a Big Ten conference call, praising his efforts over the last few weeks in practice. According to Walt Moody of the Centre Daily Times, Franklin also believes that Chiappialle can contribute in 2014:
I’ve been very impressed with him. I though we had four backs that have shown some flashes of really good things. He’s got great vision. He’s got great toughness and balance. I think there is a role for him in this football program.
At the very, very least, that role will be on special teams. Chiappialle made four tackles playing on the unit last year, and his toughness and passion for the game fit the mold of your traditional special teamer for the Nittany Lions.
Special teams coordinator Charles Huff, according to Lions247's Jeff Rice, has praised Chiappialle for being a player who "does the little things right."
Chiappialle isn't going to rush for 1,000 yards in 2014 and probably won't supplant the other three backs on the depth chart. But for a guy who can add an extra punch to the offense, even if only for a few carries a game, there should be an opportunity for him down the road.