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Penn State Spring Football: Why Is Evan Royster Taking It Easy?

by on April 02, 2010 7:10 AM

Editor's Note: This is the third of a 19-part series that seeks to answer the questions surrounding the 2010 Penn State football team. Check back every weekday until the Blue-White Game to see the question of the day. Yesterday, we asked: "What are JoePa's two biggest concerns about 2010?" Today, we ask: "Why is Evan Royster taking it easy this spring?"

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Which one player on the Penn State football team's roster is the most indispensable?

Now wait, don't answer yet.

Consider this: His backup missed two games in 2009 with an ankle injury. And he ended the 2008 season in the Rose Bowl with a dislocated right ankle that caused him to miss spring drills in 2009.

Consider this: The No. 2 player behind Mr. Indispensable on the depth chart for most of last season tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in mid-November, sidelining him the rest of the year and for the bulk of this year's spring drills.

There's more.

Finally, consider this: The fourth player on the depth chart at this position last season -- an upperclassman senior who tore the ACL in his right knee in 2008 -- won't be back in the fall, deciding to skip his final year of eligibility.

Holy ACL, Batman. Our hero better not get injured.

Joe Paterno's sentiments exactly. Now you know why senior running back Evan Royster is getting a free pass during spring drills. Paterno doesn't want to see his biggest meal ticket on offense get hurt.

"I don't want to work Royster too much," Paterno said on Wednesday. "...I certainly don't want to get him out there and get him knocked around until we're sure what we're doing. So I wouldn't expect him to get a lot of work. We will try to get the other kids some work."

Before we meet those other kids, here's the answer key to the aforementioned players:

Stephfon Green is the one with the ankle injuries. Green, a 5-foot-10, 197-pound redshirt senior, ran for 319 yards on 71 carries last season (4.5 yard average), not nearly as good as his 2008 numbers of 578 yards on 105 carries (5.5 average).

Junior Brandon Beachum (6-0, 218) went down against Indiana late last season. It was not only a loss at running back -- he was fourth on the team with 24 carries (for 113 yards and a 4.7 average). The injury was also felt in the special teams, where Beachum's heady play was integral on a number of shaky units.

And Brent Carter is the departed running back, never quite living up to expectations. He had 13 carries last season and 35 in his career.

No wonder Royster better not get injured. Penn State dodged a large bullet when Royster announced he was coming back for a fourth season in 2010. The 6-1, 213-pound senior tailback had contemplated turning pro. How serious was he? No one knows outside of his inner circle, because Royster has not talked to the media since making his decision.

Paterno needs Royster even more than you can imagine -- and it's my job to help you imagine it.

"Royster doesn't have a lot to prove to us," Paterno said. "He's a darn good football player, an all-around football player."

Royster comprised 54 percent of Penn State's rushing yards last season while getting only 46 percent of the carries. He had a great ROI, running the ball 205 times for 1,195 yards as PSU had 2,207 rushing yards overall.

Consider this: Daryll Clark and his 3,003 passing yards are gone. Coming back from 2009 are all of 80 passing yards – 66 by Kevin Newsome and 14 by Curtis Drake (for a TD). Royster will need more carries and will need to be even more effective with those carries, if that's even possible.

Royster needs just 481 yards to pass Curt Warner as Penn State's all-time leading rusher. As a senior, Warner ran the ball almost exactly the same number of times (198) that Royster did last season (205) as a junior. But Warner's 1,041 yards were only 45 percent of the Lions' running game in 1982. And, oh yeah, he had a guy named Todd Blackledge keeping opposing defenses honest.

Paterno has said it hundreds of times and it's true: That 1982 national championship was No. 1 with an offense that threw the ball (2,283) for more yards than it ran it (2,369).

Consider this: Neither Todd Blackledge nor Daryll Clark will be in the backfield with Evan Royster this fall.

Joe Suhey will be in the backfield, though. And the 6-1, 236-pound Suhey is good, too. At fullback. He's an excellent blocker and quite able receiver. Also at fullback is redshirt Curtis Dukes (6-1, 238). "Dukes has got a shot," Paterno said.

Tailback is thinner. Redshirt senior Shaine Thompson (6-0, 211), a former walk-on now on scholarship, could get a shot there. And so could redshirt sophomore Derek Day (5-9, 184).

"There's a walk-on by the name of Day who I like very much," Paterno said. "He's not the biggest kid in the world, but I think he's OK. And we'll go from there."

As he showed in 2008, Green has the potential to be quite good. But is he durable to carry 200 times both inside and out?

And those other guys behind him? Well, they're just green.

Which would leave Paterno blue – if not seeing red as well – if Royster got hurt this spring.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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