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Room to tinker with RBs versus non-con opponents

As soon as Penn State loses a game, then, of course, the answer will be yes.

James Franklin’s commitment to playing all four tailbacks has raised more questions than any other aspect of the Nittany Lions’ 3-0 start.

He deflected a couple inquiries about it Tuesday, saying, “We’re going to play all four guys until somebody really separates themselves. Right now, we feel like we have four guys we can play with and win with.”

How is somebody going to separate himself when the quartet has split a total of 61 carries? That’s just 5.0 per game, for each player.

It’s long been said the best tailbacks need to get the feel of the game before they can take it over. In this offense, by the time somebody gets a feel for the game, it’s his turn to come out.

So far, each has contributed and made a big play — Journey Brown’s 85-yard run and Noah Cain’s strong drive against Pitt, freshman Devyn Ford’s 81-yard touchdown burst against Idaho and Ricky Slade’s 48-yard run with a pass out of the backfield against Pitt.

Of the group, Slade — who entered the season as the leading candidate to replace Miles Sanders — has struggled the most, averaging just 1.8 yards on 12 carries with a long run of 5 yards. He’s also fumbled twice.

Staying with the desire to stick with his plan may be Franklin’s way of giving Slade every chance, maybe a last chance, to remain in the mix.

While many of us wonder why Cain’s performance against Pitt — seven touches for 53 yards on one drive and a key touchdown — didn’t warrant more action, Franklin remains focused on his rotation.

And that may be OK. We’ll see.

The non-conference schedule should be the time to tinker with personnel.

We can point to this everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality and begin a debate about how there’s nothing wrong with showing patience, even redshirting — after all, Ki-Jana Carter did it — but that isn’t college football today.

Franklin surely gave indications if not promises during recruiting that freshmen such as Cain (who arrived in January and looked good in the Blue-White game) and Ford would get a chance to play this year.

The early-season approach makes good on that pledge.

Unlike days of yesteryear, when true freshmen weren’t listed on the roster, almost automatically spent a year on the foreign team, probably were tried at multiple positions and really didn’t even get names until their sophomore years — OK, that’s a slight exaggeration — there was no transfer portal.

Players today have much more freedom, and if you believe that’s good, then it’s hard to question this. You can’t have it both ways: Complain when players flock to the transfer portal but think Brown or Cain should be averaging 15 carries per game.

The reality is of these four players, at least one is likely to wind up in the transfer portal. That’s just the nature of today’s game.

And if that’s the case, James Franklin can say he attempted to let in-game competition dictate when the Nittany Lions would figure out their No. 1 tailback.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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