Andy’s Insights: Talking Penn State running backs

Andys Insights

Get used to seeing “or” on the running back depth chart

So let’s talk about the running backs, the depth chart and the all-important “or” that coach James Franklin uses.

Sometimes the Nittany Lions’ skipper uses the “or” for tactical purposes, but more recently he is using it because he actually plans to play those players on a regular basis.

Penn State has that kind of depth in spots this season. This is not a tactical use of “or” in 2019.

Especially at the running back position.

Now the Idaho Vandals are not a good measuring stick. That was a very bad defense. And that hole true freshman running back Devyn Ford ran through on his long run was an 81-yard gallop waiting to happen for any back.

Instead, let’s dig deeper into why I firmly believe all four of these running backs, Ricky Slade, Journey Brown, Noah Cain and Ford, will continue to be listed as “or” on the depth chart for many weeks.

At his weekly press conference when asked about the difficulties of using four running backs, Franklin said he doesn’t see it as a difficulty at all for the coaching staff. In fact, he said, he sees it as the opposite.

And I could not agree more.

If you watched closely on Saturday it was the little things each one did that grabbed my attention. Look, Slade is the more polished and complete back. He will always be the first option when healthy.

But I also saw the other three, Brown, Cain and Ford, you saw them pass blocking adequately, running crisp and tight pass routes out of the backfield. You saw all three flash when there was room to roam and dig hard for that extra yard in tight quarters.

They are all four viable options in this offense. So why not use them all?

If you’ve watched Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Auburn or almost any other elite program in Week 1 or last year you saw multiple running backs sharing the load.

In the modern game it’s a position built on options rather than on the assets of one player – Saquon Barkley is the exception to every rule, of course.

Even a guy like DeAndre Swift at Georgia, for example. The Pennsylvania native from Saint Joseph’s Prep is a star and elite back. He is the Bulldogs’ top Dawg but not their only regular option.

You always run with a hot hand. And Franklin said he will look to do that in games if that situation comes about. But listening to him talk about the running back position and based on what took place inside Beaver Stadium in the opener … all four of these running backs can help this offense.

Why limit yourself to one option when you have four fairly equal assets?

Get used to RBBC (Running Back By Committee) Penn State fans. Barring injuries, these four backs have the chops to make this position stronger than any one of them alone can do.