Bill Belton opened last season as Penn State's starting tailback, but an ankle injury in the season-opener against Ohio severely curtailed his production for the season. He missed three games and never was the same after he returned, opening the door for converted fullback Zach Zwinak to become the starting tailback.
Zwinak exceeded all expectations, rushing for 1,000 yards and six TDs despite managing just 2 yards in the first three games. Belton finished with 258 yards and three scores.
Zwinak took on a heavy workload: He had seven games with at least 18 carries and three games with at least 28. Expect his workload to decrease this season because Belton is back and in great shape. Zwinak, a junior, still is the starter, but Belton should be heavily involved in the offense, too.
Belton (5-foot-10, 205), a junior, has added weight in an effort to become a bit more physical, and coaches have told him they want less dancing and more patience. Belton has had some academic issues, but O'Brien said today that he should be good to go this fall.
Belton did have a 100-yard day in a mid-October victory over Iowa, but the ankle flared up and he had just one total carry in the final four games. His Iowa performance is what coach Bill O'Brien expects regularly.
O'Brien told bluewhiteillustrated.com that he showed Belton some tape last season in an effort to help him understand what coaches wanted.
"I showed him BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, some of the guys in New England, and how decisive they were," said O'Brien, who was an assistant with the New England Patriots before he went to Penn State. "He was better when he came back."
A productive rushing attack is going to be vital for Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions will have a new quarterback, and neither of the top two candidates, JC transfer Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Christian Hackenberg, have taken a snap in a college game. The offensive line, headed by senior guard John Urschel, should be a good one.