The man who will replace Silas Redd wore the disguise of a wide receiver last season.
Bill Belton will head into the season atop Penn State's depth chart at running back.
Penn State's new coaching staff wasn't fooled, and quickly moved Bill Belton back to the position they believed he was built to play.
"I think the first or second day I was on the job he walked into my office, and I thought he was a running back," running backs coach Charles London said. "I hadn't met a lot of the players and I figured he was one of my group anyway. He said, 'No, I play receiver.' I said, 'Well, when Coach (Bill) O'Brien gets here after the Super Bowl, we're going to have to talk about that. You're a running back.'"
At Penn State's Media Day, O'Brien described what his idea of a typical running back is -- someone between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-11, muscular, low to the ground. He might as well have been describing Belton, the 5-foot-10, 202-pound sophomore from Sicklerville, N.J.
"Just looking at his build and some of his traits, and just watching him move out there and some of the stuff we did this winter in conditioning -- he moves like a back," London said. "He's got great feet, really instinctive. We're really happy we went forward with that move."
But was Belton happy with it? Playing in eight games as a true freshman last season, he caught just one pass as a wide receiver but rushed 13 times for 65 yards, mostly as a Wildcat quarterback. While all of the Nittany Lions were charged with learning the new offense this spring, Belton had to do it from a new position.
"Coach O'Brien was somebody that always told the truth and has always been a straightforward guy," Belton said. "So when he decided to make that decision and told me about it, I was all for it. I didn't ever doubt Coach O'Brien since that day."
At the time, Belton knew he was stepping into one of the few positions on the team that had an entrenched returning starter. Redd ran for 1,241 yards last season and picked up 47 percent of Penn State's carries.
When Redd announced that he would transfer to USC earlier this month, Belton, who had quickly ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart during the spring, became the man. He was ready, and credited Redd with helping him be ready.
"Being the No. 2 guy behind Silas, you definitely learn a lot of things from him," Belton said. "And you learn how to prepare. That's one thing I learned how to do, watching him go through practice. When he decided to make his decision, I didn't miss a step, and I continued to do what I was doing."
Penn State has plenty of bulk in the backfield this season -- Curtis Dukes checked in at 245 pounds this preseason, Zach Zwinak at 232 -- but many reporters wondered if Belton's frame would be able to stand a 25-carry pounding against a physical Big Ten opponent.
"The weight room guys get you ready physically for that, and they do a great job," he said, "so there's no doubt in my mind that I will be ready Sept. 1."
Belton showed the ability to absorb contact last season, but teammates say that it's been tough for defenders to get good wood on him.
"He's elusive as hell," Zwinak said. "It's like watching Barry Sanders sometimes."
It seems likely Belton will catch at least a few passes out of the backfield this season, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to see him throw the ball on occasion, either (he missed on both of his pass attempts last season). He's built like a running back, but the Nittany Lions believe he has more tools in his belt.
"He can do a lot of things," London said. "He's got a background as a quarterback from high school, and of course he played receiver last year. He's really versatile, and he's starting to understand what we can do with him in the offense. With the pro-style attack we're running, we can do a lot of different things to utilize his ability."