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Penn State Football: 6 Running Backs Tasked to Replace Silas Redd

by on August 01, 2012 6:00 AM

Bill O’Brien woke up Wednesday morning with the reality his offense will be without its top returning playmaker.

If the seven months since he took the Penn State coaching job are any indication, he’s already moving past the loss of junior tailback Silas Redd and reconfiguring his offense to best suit players such as Bill Belton, Derek Day, Curtis Dukes, Akeel Lynch, Mike Zordich and Zach Zwinak.

They are the 2012 backfield — for now. Dukes and Lynch are reportedly mulling transfer options, though the closer we get to preseason practice Aug. 6, the higher the probability they will stick around.

Combined, Dukes (253), Zordich (83), Belton (65), Day (27) and Zwinak (6) have rushed for 434 yards. To put that in perspective, Redd gained 703 yards last October, leading the nation.

Preseason practice will ultimately determine if Belton, a converted wide receiver who picked up the chunk of his rushing totals a year ago as a wildcat quarterback, can be the feature back or if the team is best served using a running back-by-committee system.

An unproven run game also puts the onus on a fifth-year senior quarterback who completed 54.1 percent of his passes a season ago.

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Penn State has exactly one month until the Sept. 1 opener against Ohio to sufficiently evaluate its running game.

The clock is ticking.

Sophomore Bill Belton: The 5-foot-10, 196-pound back rushed seven times for a team-high 50 yards in April’s Blue-White Game. He was the first player in New Jersey high school history to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 in back-to-back seasons. In his final two years, he passed for 4,472 yards and 36 touchdowns and rushed for 2,195 yards and 28 touchdowns.

"Bill's going to be a big-time player — there's no doubt about that,'' senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said in April. "His vision is something you don't see from a lot of running backs. It's crazy to see some of the cuts he makes.''

Redshirt junior Curtis Dukes: The bruising back is currently mulling multiple offers but would return as Penn State’s leading rusher. He sat out spring practice to concentrate on academics, and O’Brien said last week he’s expected to pass his summer classes and be eligible in the fall.

Dukes, 6-foot-1, 242 pounds, set career highs in carries (9) and yards (60) last season against Iowa.

Senior Derek Day: To date, Day, a former walk-on, has been an impact player on special teams, recording eight tackles and a forced fumble last season. After a long journey back from a severely broken leg in high school, he may finally get his chance to crack the running back rotation in 2012.

Senior Mike Zordich: Effective catching the ball out of the backfield and running in short yardage situations, the fullback, who has stood out from a leadership standpoint in the past year, could be utilized a bit more in 2012.

Redshirt sophomore Zach Zwinak: Like Zordich, expect Zwinak to be called upon to move the pile and pass protect quarterback Matt McGloin. Zwinak looked good in spring practice and parlayed that into a strong showing in April’s spring scrimmage.

Freshman Akeel Lynch: Another back with a decision to make. Does he stay or does he go? The true freshman, players have said, was a force in the weight room during the summer conditioning program.

Before Redd’s departure, it was unknown if he would’ve fit into the backfield rotation or been a redshirt candidate. Now, provided he sticks around, he could challenge for playing time with a strong preseason.

Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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