Penn State Nittany Lions football: Entrance Exam — How can PSU football's running backs take the step forward?
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Three season-defining questions for Penn State's RBs: Entrance Exam

The Penn State Nittany Lions football season begins in less than a month, and Blue-White Illustrated is breaking down the key questions facing each Penn State position group in its new series, Entrance Exam, continuing on the offensive side of the ball with Penn State's running backs.

Check out previous Entrance Exam stories:

Safeties

Cornerbacks

Linebackers

Defensive Line

Offensive Line

Tight Ends

Wide Receivers

1. How does the depth chart sort itself out?

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Penn State football enters the 2021 season with a wealth of backfield options.

Noah Cain returns from injury, and the early takeaways from his performance in camp have been positive ones. Penn State also added former Baylor running back John Lovett to the room from the transfer portal.

That duo joins Keyvone Lee, Deyvn Ford and Caziah Holmes, who all saw more carries than they might have expected last season.

Penn State head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich have each indicated that they intend to use a three-back rotation moving into this season.

So, who will those three running backs be? Will Cain reclaim his status as the feature back? Where does Lovett fit into all of this?

Running back will be the most interesting position to analyze once the Nittany Lions release their first depth chart of the season because there's so much that we don't know at the moment as Penn State tries to sort through everything before its season opener with Wisconsin.

2. Where does the change of pace come from?

Penn State Nittany Lions running back Keyvone Lee emerged to have a big season in 2020 as a true freshman.
Penn State Nittany Lions running back Keyvone Lee emerged to have a big season in 2020 as a true freshman. (Penn State Athletics)

Certainly, when Franklin, Yurcich and running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider get together to decide which three running backs they'll carry into the season in their rotation, they'll want to fill those three spots with players who offer some variety in terms of skillset.

How they'll do that remains to be seen. Two players who figure to crack that top three are Lee and Cain, but they've both excelled as bruising, downhill backs to this point in their relatively young careers.

How much that influences the coaching staff's decision-making as they sort this room out will be fascinating to watch.

And it will be important for the Nittany Lions to find that running back who can offer that change of pace. Will that be Lovett's role? Can Ford finally make the jump that we've been waiting for from him? WIll Holmes surprise us by claiming more snaps?


3. Can Penn State keep all of its options happy? 

Depth is never a bad thing, especially at a position where Penn State football has suffered some very bad luck when it comes to injuries and, unfortunately, medical issues, as it relates to Journey Brown.

But this is somewhat of a unique situation because of the experience Penn State's running backs have.

Cain had emerged as Penn State's feature back in 2019 as a true freshman, Lee took over that mantle in his stead last season, Lovett is as experienced as they come with four years under his belt, Ford has gotten plenty of snaps over the last two seasons, and Holmes played far more than anyone would have expected as a true freshman last season.

Managing expectations for the running backs that aren't seeing very much action will be key, as will finding creative ways to get them involved.

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