The Nittany Lions will be looking for a vocal senior leader on offense in 2014, and running back Bill Belton is the perfect player to assume the role.
Over the past two seasons, Zach Zwinak has received the bulk of the carries for Penn State, but Belton adds a different dimension for an offense that will be in need of playmakers and pass-catchers—both strengths of the New Jersey native.
Bill O'Brien liked to use a running back-by-committee approach, which limited Belton's ability to get in a groove in all aspects of the offense. He still rushed for over 1,000 yards in that time, caught three touchdowns and averaged nearly half a yard more per carry than Zwinak in 2013.
Huff says Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak have some of the qualities of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) January 24, 2014
Word out of camp is that Belton looks stronger than ever and has picked up the new offense quickly. With his speed and elusiveness, added strength would make him the complete package as a running back.
As a receiver, Belton can quickly contribute in the absence of the top two receivers from last season. Departed receivers Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder accounted for 125 catches in 2013. Only two players on the current roster have more career catches than Belton.
Perhaps the most important thing that Belton can provide for the offense is his leadership and resiliency. As a player who took time to find his role on this team and battled academic issues at one point, Belton is a player who has matured in front of his teammates and is one of the most respected men on the team.
Penn State RB Bill Belton tells NBC10 he and players spoke to BOB and are happy for him. "He gave PSU a sense of life in a very dark time"— John Clark CSN (@JClarkCSN) January 2, 2014
When called upon to shoulder the load last year, Belton stepped up with a fierce performance against Michigan and, later, a 200-yard rushing game in an overtime win over Illinois. In fact, every time he received more than 10 carries, he responded with at least 81 yards.
Belton played a large role in the win over Ohio State his freshman season. He scored the game-winning touchdown against Michigan last year. He has shown the ability to excel under pressure and has bounced back several times in his career.
When he talks in the huddle, his teammates listen and believe in him. He can score from anywhere on the field in a number of ways.
Zwinak and Akeel Lynch will be a part of this offense, but Bill Belton should be Penn State's starting running back.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.