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Penn State Football: Sanders Should Be Ready For Week 1, But Should Penn State Play Him?

by on July 18, 2016 2:00 PM

There's no good reason to think that Miles Sanders won't play this season. Let's get that out of the way right off the bat.

Sanders was the best running back recruit in the nation before he officially became a Nittany Lion this month, he looks the part and has yet to do anything but live up to those standards at every opportunity.

Take, for example, Penn State strength coach Dwight Galt's first reaction to seeing Sanders in action: "Woah."

But the question is still out there. Should Penn State actually play Sanders in 2016? Should James Franklin do what he has done for his entire tenure at Penn State and redshirt a player for the team of the future rather than burning his eligibility for the potential for an immediate fix? This isn't a matter of a position in need either. Penn State still has a hypothetical Heisman longshot in Saquon Barkley and a stable of capable role players behind him.

POLL: Should Miles Sanders Play As A True Freshman?

Only if Barkley injured

The case for playing Sanders is simple. You give Barkley 5-10 fewer carries a game, keep him that much more fresh and that many more plays healthy. If Sanders is as good as advertised he may very well be a Barkley clone, or in the very least not a noticeable step backwards when Barkley isn't getting the ball. Barkley may not get the same numbers he had in 2015, but the two backs together might do that well or better as a tandem.

There's also the perhaps bold assumption that Sanders is only a three-year player in the first place. That he is destined to be good enough that he will turn pro after his junior year. In that light the clock is already ticking and you may as well get as much as you can out of him. If Barkley is trending on the same path that's two years with Barkley and Sanders in the backfield, certainly not a bad problem to have. Then it's one year of Sanders all on his own before heading to the next level.

However there is a case to be made for redshirting him. Sanders is 195 pounds, Galt says that the freshman will be ready for Week 1 on some level. At the same time it's worth noting that Sanders is 28 pounds lighter than his counterpart in Barkley. While adding weight isn't the end all be all of being capable of playing at the Division I level off the bat, wanting a player to add nearly 30 pounds isn't a small request.

Boiled down to its most basic parts it's a situation where a player is behind a Top 10 talent at his position and in need of adding significant weight and with zero experience at the Division I level. That's rarely something that ends with meaningful Week 1 snaps, and as Galt added, Sanders might be physically ready by Week 1, but it's also a matter of where he fits in the scheme and how he handles everything else. If you don't automatically assume that Sanders is headed to the NFL in three years, it's not unreasonable to give him a year to prepare on and off the field. After all Division I football is far more than making people miss, it's blocking and reading defenses and making the right decisions. While there's no reason to think Sanders doesn't have that figured out, there's no reason to assume he's ready to take time from Barkley just yet either.

But then again, Sanders has been meeting or exceeding expectations, expectations that are set extremely high. So maybe it doesn't matter how things "normally" go. In the end, he might just be too good to simply get older watching from the sideline.

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