Silas Redd. Curtis Dukes. Stephfon Green. Brandom Beachum.
The names just keep on coming at opponents from the Nittany Lion backfield this season. With senior Stephon Green coming back last week against Iowa from suspension and the expected return of junior Brandon Beachum from injury this week against Northwestern, the Lions will have four capable tailbacks to choose from.
Talk about depth. Despite the majority of the carries going to standout sophomore Silas Redd, the Lions can look to the devastating injury that the South Carolina Gamecocks suffered when star running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury as evidence that a Plan B isn’t such a bad option.
Or in the Nittany Lions’ case, a Plan B, C, or D. And for the team this season, it’s been important.
Following the departure of all-time PSU leading rusher Evan Royster to the graduation, the tailback duties were supposed to be assumed by senior Stephfon Green, who had amassed more than 1,000 yards and eight TD’s in his first three seasons, and sophomore Silas Redd, who emerged late in the 2010 season spelling Royster, adding 407 yards in his freshman season and an impressive 5.7 yards per carry.
But that plan went array when Green was suspended by the team due to academic issues for spring practice and then eventually the start of the season. No problem, Silas Redd assumed the starting job and the bulk of the carries while junior Brandon Beachum took second team reps.
Beachum, a bruising 230 pound junior, carried the ball at least 20 times in both of his freshman and sophomore seasons, totaling 227 yards and two touchdowns. He filled the big back role for the Lions for the first three games of the season before spraining his ankle against Temple.
Enter Curtis Dukes, another bruising 240 pound back to provide a chance of pace from the shifty Redd. A sophomore like Redd, Dukes runs north-south and keeps his shoulders square to punish defenders at the point of attack, which has resulted in a whopping 6.4 yards per carry this season and 211 yards. He plunged in from a yard out to score his first career touchdown this weekend against Purdue. Look for Dukes to continue to see an increased role in short-yardage situations, where he has excelled so far this season.
In life everything seems to come full-circle, and the Penn State backfield is no different. The return of senior Stephfon Green from suspension this week gives the Lions four tailbacks, all with ample experience. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaches work the situation, all four guys bring something different to the table and can contribute something to an offense in desperate need of a boost.
Silas Redd is obviously the feature back, with 705 yards and five touchdowns, he also leads the team in carries with 147, so it’s safe to say he’ll average around 20+ carries a game, and he should as he’s been one of the best backs in the Big Ten this season.
But the Lions coaches can find ways to use the other three guys and get them on the
field. With Green being a senior, he should see some playing time over the underclassmen like Dukes and Beachum. Green’s best asset is his hands out of the backfield, in his only truly full season in Happy Valley in ’08, Green had 15 catches for 268 yards. Using him on screen passes would cut down on the wear and tear on Redd and also insert a more capable receiver into the lineup.
Both Dukes and Beachum have similar skill sets as 230 pound backs, split the short yardage situations between them, or settle on whichever one is the better short-yardage guy. Dukes runs at 6’1 and 240 pounds, so he might be a better option and has shown the ability to excel in these type of situations so far, but let both guys have at it and see who come up as the top dog.
No matter who ends up doing what, there’s no doubt that there is some competition in the Penn State backfield, and tons of fresh bodies, which will be an asset down the grueling home stretch. Just ask Steve Spurrier if he’d like to have four capable tailbacks right now, I’m sure he’d agree.
The Lions four-headed monster at tailback faces the Northwestern Wildcats on the road in Evanston, IL, on Saturday at 7 p.m..