Penn State has become a home for elite running backs in recent years, but the running back culture goes back much further than Saquon Barkley a few seasons ago. Before Barkley became a videogame cheat code, there was Blair Thomas, Franco Harris, Larry Johnson, Ki-Jana Carter, and Heisman Trophy winner, John Cappelletti. That is a historically long list and not even half of the talented running backs in Penn State Football history. Most recently was Miles Sanders who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019. With the recent success of Penn State running backs, the surge in four-star recruits becoming Nittany Lions is no surprise. Running backs coach, Ja’Juan Seider has done an amazing job with the unit since joining the staff in January 2018. So, who are the 2019 Penn State running backs?
2019 Penn State Running Backs
A Committee Approach
Even though it will likely be running back by committee this season with the amount of talent that is in the group, there are still roles that need to be defined.
Sophomore, Ricky Slade, is set to be the number one running back for the Nittany Lions in 2019. Slade played in nine games as a true freshman last season. He carried for 257 yards and six touchdowns. The swift back did not see as many snaps as he would have liked with Sanders being the starting back and there being two more veterans in the unit, but when he touched the ball you could see flashes of what he is capable of. Sanders caught 24 passes a season ago while Slade only grabbed one. Getting the speed and vision that Slade has out in the open field will be paramount for the Nittany Lions this season.
Next in Line
Slade is not the only running back that will get a lot of snaps this season. Redshirt sophomore Journey Brown is in the mix as well. Brown missed summer for violation of team rules but is back with the team at fall practice. Even though Brown was suspended, Head Coach James Franklin raved about the back at Big Ten Media Days. Franklin stated, “He has an unbelievable body, and he’s big, strong, and fast. He’s starting to play with the speed and athleticism that he has, and he’s just maturing and growing up.” Franklin went on to comment that he believes Brown will have a big year for the Nittany Lions. Brown played in five games last season and scored one touchdown. Look for a lot more out of him in Penn State’s season opener against Idaho.
The True Freshmen
It is more than likely that two true freshmen will get playing time at running back in 2019. The first being early-enrollee Noach Cain. Cain had a strong showing at the Blue-White Game in April. Further, he has continued to show the coaching staff that he is ready to play immediately. Cain didn’t score just once in the Blue-White Game and he didn’t score against the second or third defense. He played for the white team which had him matched against Nittany Lion and Big Ten standouts, Micah Parsons and Yetur Gross-Matos and he scored twice. Once receiving and once rushing. One thing has remained clear since Cain got on campus in January, he is hard to tackle. Look for him to get many snaps throughout the season.
The other true freshman that is likely to contribute, and maybe redshirt, is Devyn Ford. Ford is a four-star running back out of Virginia. He just got on campus this summer, but has already impressed the coaching staff. Look for Ford to make flashes throughout the season and round out an impressive, young group of backs.
It is likely that Slade, Brown, and Cain will highlight the season opener against Idaho in Beaver Stadium on August 31st. It is also likely that Slade will start the game, but Brown and Cain will finish it off. Fans may even see Ford enter the contest if the Nittany Lions start to run away with it. Overall, the 2019 Penn State running backs are young and talented. Any one could break out this season, but to start it will be a team effort.