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Looking forward: Running backs

With the 2012 season in the books, Lions247 will take a look at each of Penn State's position groupings, breaking down both how the Nittany Lions fared at that position this past season and what the future holds. We checked out the wide receivers on Monday. Today, it's the running backs.

Will Belton have a more prominent role in 2013?

2012 roundup: It was an interesting year to say the least for a diverse group of backs and first-year position coach Charles London. Penn State started four different players at the tailback position this season, and none of them were named Silas Redd. Penn State finished just ninth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (143.9) but had one of the conference's hottest tailbacks at the end of the season. Zach Zwinak, who had only three carries in the first three games, ran for 998 yards over the final nine contests and had 65 carries for 314 yards in the last two games. An early-season injury threw Bill Belton's season off track and he was never able to establish much momentum after that. The Nittany Lions went with the straight-ahead style of Zwinak and Michael Zordich down the stretch, which wore down defenses and provided balance to the offense.

Departures: Zordich, Derek Day

There were some concerns that Bill O'Brien might not have use for the fullback but Zordich put those to rest, finishing with career-highs in carries (80), yards (308) and touchdowns (4). He was also a team captain and will be one of the most remembered leaders on a team that had plenty of them. Day (33 carries, 109 yards), a former walk-on, filled in admirably early in the season but spent most of the stretch run contributing on special teams.

Returnees: Zwinak (203-1,000-6), Belton (60-263-3), Curtis Dukes (26-98), Akeel Lynch*


Newcomers: None

Penn State still has an outside shot at landing Philadelphia running back David Williams but it's more likely there won't be any newcomers at the position this summer, unless commit Richy Anderson winds up at running back instead of receiver.

Skinny: Who thought in September that Zwinak would wind up as a 1,000-yard rusher? Not many. But the physical Maryland native should have the inside track on the starting job in 2013. Ball security was an issue for Zwinak, and he also needs to improve his consistency in pass blocking and pass receiving, but his production down the stretch was tremendous. O'Brien has maintained that Belton, one of Penn State's "Supa Six" sophomores, still has a role on the team, and it could be interesting to see exactly what that role entails (the New England Patriots used a number of running backs in several ways when O'Brien was the offensive coordinator there). The wild card is Lynch, who has all the physical tools and a season of practice (most of it spent on the scout team) under his belt. Those three should be able to carry the load in an offense that might run the ball more until it gets some experience at the quarterback position. Many believe Dukes, who publicly grumbled about playing time this season, won't be back. If he is, he'll need to show he can master the playbook if he's going to see the field other than a special teams player.

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