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Penn State Football: Position Preview: Running Backs

by on April 05, 2016 2:00 PM

Who's Gone: 

Another fairly straightforward position to recap, Akeel Lynch will forego his final season of eligibility at Penn State and transfer to Nevada and Nick Scott will make the switch from running back to safety. Both changes are players seeing the writing on the wall, or more specifically seeing Saquon Barkley on the field and the likes of Miles Sanders coming to campus this summer. Only so many carries to go around.

Who's Still Here: 

Technically speaking there are quite a few running backs on Penn State's roster officially, six to be exact, but really it's Johnanthan Thomas, Andre Robinson and Mark Allen who line up behind Barkley until Sanders gets to town in a few months.

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Barkley needs no real introduction and Mark Allen was serviceable when splitting reps with Scott and Lynch. Thomas and Robinson are the true unknowns of the bunch although Franklin seems high enough on Robinson's athletic abilities to try and find a way to get him on the field this year. The advantage of this group is youth, but at the same time that means everyone is headed out the door around the same time, so figuring the right way to manage all of the talent is the challenge here.

What To Watch For:

It's a safe assumption at this point that Barkley will get the majority of the carries this season, which opens the door for a whole bunch of players to work in a relief role. While Miles Sanders is the biggest new face on the entire roster, it's the usage of Andre Robinson that might dictate how the position pans out. If Robinson can give Penn State meaningful carries behind Barkley maybe it lessens the need to use Sanders on Day 1. If Allen and Thomas have strong summers maybe it means Robinson becomes more of a specialist in the return game. If Joe Moorhead's offense is friendly to running backs catching passes that could open up a whole other door for how this unit is used. And there is always the possibility that Sanders is better than Barkley and then who knows what happens next.

In many ways Penn State has lots of answers to the running back question, almost too many answers, which makes this one of the more intriguing position battles to watch unfold. There isn't really a wrong way for Franklin to handle this position, which is a fairly unique situation to be in on a roster still getting its depth back. If nothing else the talent here ought to greatly help whoever ends up starting at quarterback this season.

The Short Version: 

Barkley is the man and Sanders might be even better. Until something happens it's Barkley's unit to carry and could be his offense to manage as well. Thomas, Robinson and Allen all have something to offer, it's just a matter of finding a way to get all five guys on the field and not take a step backwards in the process. If healthy Barkley had a real shot at a 2,000 yard season last year, that's not something you want to tinker with too much. Then again, you don't want to miss out on what Sanders and Co bring to the table either.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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