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Penn State minus Saquon? No sweat, backs say

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Miles Sanders. - AP

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa -- Rushing yards: 1,271. Receiving yards: 632. Touchdowns: 21. That's what Saquon Barkley did statistically for Penn State last season.

Rushing yards: 672. Receiving yards: 122. Touchdowns: 8. That's the combined career production of the eligible running backs on the roster as the Nittany Lions prepare to open Sept. 1 against Appalachian State.

To say Barkley's shoes are big to fill would be an understatement, but what the current group of lacks in production, they make up for in confidence.

"I just want to be clear: We will have just as much production or more production at the running back position than we had last year," redshirt senior Johnathan Thomas said at a recent team meeting, according to James Franklin.

That confidence will bode well with Penn State moving forward with Woodland Hills graduate Miles Sanders as the starter this fall.

"Miles has really matured from high school to now and I think he has really taken advantage of what this opportunity presents for him," Franklin said. "I think he's going to have a big year. I think we're going to have a lot of production out of our running back position."

For Sanders, it's nothing new to be the feature back, as that was his role on Friday nights in Turtle Creek. But he also was able to watch how Barkley did things for two years.

"I kinda sat back and saw how it was with college because it's way different than it was in high school," Sanders said. "Watching him take care of himself on and off the field, they way he does his interviews, the way he practices. Seems like I watched the best."

It won't just be Sanders doing all the work as he will be joined by quite a few athletic backs who look to help fill the void at the running back position. It'll be a group effort featuring experienced backs in Thomas and redshirt senior Mark Allen, and newcomers redshirt freshman Journey Brown and true freshman Ricky Slade.

The athleticism of the aforementioned backs gives Franklin and company a multitude of weapons at their disposal whether it be in the run game or the pass game. But for now, all eyes will be on Sanders and he's more than ready to take the ball and run with it.

"I'm just ready to show the world what I can do, show the Big Ten, show everybody," Sanders said.

MILES SANDERS

• Size: 5-11, 207
• Class: Junior

After spending two years behind Barkley, it's now Sanders' time to be the feature back for Penn State. Sanders came to Happy Valley as the premier running back out of Pennsylvania in 2016. He spent the bulk of his time on special teams gaining 688 yards on kickoff returns in 2016 and should see his special teams days end this fall. What remains to be seen from Sanders is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, one of Barkley's specialties.

RICKY SLADE

• Size: 5-9, 201
• Class: Freshman

Slade is the question mark in the running back room this season and for good reason, he's only a freshman. The 2017 Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year was a five-star recruit is someone who can rely solely on his athleticism and get away with it while running the football during his first collegiate season. Where Slade will struggle though, will be his blitz pickup and blocking of which he more than likely didn't do at the high school level. Slade projects to be the second string back behind Sanders and could split reps with Allen.

MARK ALLEN

• Size: 5-6, 190
• Class: Redshirt senior

Allen is the most experienced back in the group and should see a good bit of playing time in the backfield spelling Sanders. The 5-foot-6 Allen will also see some time on special teams as he's been known to return punts as well. Allen's shiftiness bodes well for him seeing the field in a greater capacity this fall than previous years, but he will be firmly planted behind Sanders and possibly Slade on the depth chart.

JOURNEY BROWN

• Size: 5-11, 210
• Class: Redshirt freshman

Brown rushed for 722-yards and 10 touchdowns in a single game against DuBois during his senior year of high school. He probably won't have a game quite like that again, but for the Nittany Lions, Brown will see a considerable amount of time returning kicks this season. With his speed and athleticism, Brown will also provide a quality fourth option behind Sanders, Slade and Allen.

JOHNATHAN THOMAS

• Size: 5-11, 221
• Class: Redshirt senior

Thomas appeared primarily on special teams in 2017 for the the Nittany Lions and would expect to fill that same role in 2018. Thomas, a redshirt senior, could also see time as a depth option in the backfield when it's a game that's out of hand or the guys above him need a blow.

NICK EURY

• Size: 5-9, 204
• Class: Redshirt sophomore

Eury made his collegiate debut against Georgia State in 2017 with one carry for four yards. For his redshirt sophomore season, I'd expect Eury to see the field only in mop-up duty with a possibility of special teams. With the guys ahead of Eury, it'll be hard for him to see the field regularly unless there are a barrage of injuries.

C.J. HOLMES

• Size: 6-0, 202
• Class: Sophomore

Holmes transferred to Penn State from Notre Dame after being kicked off the team for a shoplifting incident in December. The charges were later dropped and Holmes made the decision to walk-on for the Nittany Lions this fall after they were previously a favorite to land him out of high school. Holmes will be sitting out this season as a result of transferring, but could add valuable depth at the position next season when he is eligible to play.

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