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Training Camp Breakdown: Running Backs

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week three of training camp is well underway, with the Nittany Lions gearing up for the home opener at Beaver Stadium, which is now less than 20 days away.

Ahead of the 2017 season, continue checking in at each position for a closer look at who's back and who's new to the Nittany Lion roster. 

Who's Back:
- Mark Allen (Sr./Jr.)
- Nick Eury (So./Fr.)
- Saquon Barkley (Jr./Jr.)
- Miles Sanders (So./So.)
- Andre Robinson (Jr./So.)
- Johnathan Thomas (Sr./Jr.)
Josh McPhearson (RS-Sr./Sr.) 

- Journey Brown (Fr./Fr., 5-11/194, Meadville, Pa./Meadville).

- Irvine Paye 

What To Watch For:
On media day it was special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff who detailed that part of developing means coming up with a plan. For consistency, it's a plan that hits on all the essentials, what's the group's identity, where does it want to go and what does it want to accomplish.

Holding the unit to the standards in the plan is of course among Huff's responsibilities, but more so, it's strengthened by the challenge from its leader, Saquon Barkley, who among so many tremendous talents, is often at his best when making those around him better.

From eye-popping athleticism to flat out freaky strength, there's no denying that Barkley is a truly special talent. Smashing records in his freshman and sophomore season on campus, Barkley is just the eighth Nittany Lion in program history with multiple 1,000-yard seasons, ranked 12th on the career rushing yards list (2,572).

Both the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and the Big Ten Running Back of the Year, Barkley has rewritten the record books and stunned audiences along the way, showcasing pure speed and tenacity.

Around the Lasch Building though, when Barkley's name comes up it's often in reference to what type of character he has off the field. During Penn State's poster distribution this, it was Barkley who made it no more than 10 feet off the bus to greet every single fan from Burrows to Hiester, happily signing posters along the way.

"That character I would say comes from my family," Barkley said. "My mother and father did a tremendous job raising me and my brother and sisters."

Like any great player though, Barkley is continually working on his game, spending the offseason dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the game, especially as it relates to defense.

"The one thing people may or may not realize, is that he's still young," Huff said. "So the game of football to him, he's still learning the game of football - what defenses do, what defensive looks, what are defensive tendencies, can I get some pre-snap tips and keys on what may happen when he gets the ball, if he's going to get the ball and how to see things happen before they happen."

As Huff also noted though within in the room, there are no backups. Alongside Barkley, Penn State returns several Nittany Lions with promising experience.

"When you're in the game, you're the starting running back," Huff said. "Whoever runs out there first is luck of the draw and that's the kind of mentality we've got to have because if you take a backup mentality, you're not going to prepare to be the starter, and then when you're the starter, you won't be ready for your opportunity."

Robinson played in 12 games in his redshirt freshman season, totaling six touchdowns, including five rushing and one receiving. He highlighted the year with a career-showing in the win against Michigan State, rushing for 32 yards and a touchdown, also catching a career-high 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.


"Andre Robinson is a great example of that who goes out every day and prepares for his opportunity," Huff said on media day. "Is it 10 carries, 20 carries, or one carry? Who knows? Who knows when it may be all 20? Or who knows when it may not be any? But he's done a really good job of preparing every single day and not letting the circumstances dictate his behavior."

As a true freshman, Sanders also for the Nittany Lions, playing in 13 games. As one of five true freshmen to see the field in 2016, he set the single-season record with 33 kick returns in 2016. Outside of kickoffs, Sanders caught his first career touchdown pass in the third quarter on the road at Purdue, on a 21-yard catch-and-run.

New to the group, Penn State added Journey Brown on signing day, before welcoming the freshman from Meadville. Outside of leading Meadville to the PIAA 5A State Quarterfinals in 2016, Brown brings impressive speed to the Nittany Lion roster, having captured his second consecutive 100-meter outdoor PIAA Class AA State Championship with a record-setting 10.43 seconds to break a record originally set by Olympian Leroy Burrell in 1985.

"Obviously, with Journey being a younger guy and he's still learning," Huff said. "He's still learning where to go, how to go, and how to practice. It's all new to him. But like Saquon tells all of us, we're not going to baby you along. You're going to learn the way we did, the hard way. We learn faster like that, with a little bit of pressure on us. And Saquon does a good job of it. He does a good job with the team as well, with holding the team and his teammates to a standard."

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