Editor's Note: Lions247 will tackle every position as Penn State gears up for spring practice on March 18. Today we look at what should be a compelling running back picture.
Zwinak gained all but two of his 1,000 rushing yards over the final nine games of 2012.
Departed players: Derek Day (109 yards in 2012), Michael Zordich (301 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Newcomers: Richy Anderson
2012 review: Like their offensive linemen, Penn State's running backs had some trouble getting traction in the early part of the season but by the end of the year had made the transfer of Silas Redd seem a lot less important. An early ankle injury threw Belton's season off-track and, though he had a sensational game against Iowa (16 carries, 103 yards, three scores), he was never able to regain his footing as the top back. That honor, for most of the season, belonged to Zwinak, who averaged an impressive 27 carries and 147 yards over the last four games despite dealing with some ball-security issues. Penn State lacked a true home-run threat at the position but Charles London's first group produced a lot of singles and doubles.
Pre-spring analysis: Once again, the Nittany Lions won't have a deep group of backs but, provided they avoid the rash of injuries that hit the position last year, should once again be productive in 2013. Zwinak is a proven commodity who gained confidence with each game and whose powerful style is a nice complement to Bill O'Brien's uptempo passing attack. Belton has more wiggle and, if he can learn to better disengage from his initial tackler, is more dangerous in the open field. Lynch is probably somewhere in between the two in both size and running style. Though he might have some work to do to catch up with the veterans on the roster, the coaches like his potential. Anderson, who enrolled in January, will most likely wind up as a slot receiver and needs to add some weight. Barring a string of injuries ahead of him, don't be surprised if he redshirts.
Spring goals: Zwinak needs to show the coaches he can hold onto the ball. Belton needs to show he's willing to go all-out during every practice. Lynch needs to show that, after a year of running the scout-team offense, he has picked up the playbook and can capably handle his blocking assignments.
Fearless prediction: Though some believe O'Brien will lean on his running game more as he breaks in a new quarterback, Penn State's offense will likely retain a 50-50 run-pass split. Zwinak emerges from the spring and summer as the starter and gets the lion's share of the carries, but Belton sees more time on third downs and becomes a reliable receiving threat. By season's end, Lynch has worked his way into the rotation to the tune of about 12 carries a game. Penn State doesn't wind up with a 1,000-yard rusher but the three backs combine for about 1,700 all-purpose yards.