Running backs finally healthy for PSU

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State is finally trading in its ball-carrier carousel for a committee approach.

After an injury-riddled month that saw four different tailbacks start four games, Bill O'Brien said everyone finally appears to be healthy -- including starter Bill Belton, who suffered a severe ankle sprain in the opener.

"He practiced yesterday and looked decent, so we would anticipate him being ready to go for the game," O'Brien said Tuesday.

Michael Zordich did not practice Monday but planned to be in pads Tuesday. Derek Day said he's already receiving practice reps, and O'Brien said Saturday that Curtis Dukes' injury was not serious.

All those healthy additions now shift O'Brien's philosophy from "Next man up" to ... well, he's not entirely sure yet.

"It's definitely tough to use all five, but I definitely see us using two or three," he said. "It depends on how they practice during the week."

O'Brien and assistant coach Charles London sat down with the five running backs to inform them playing time will be a reflection of practice. Day shook his head when asked if the competition created animosity, knowing his playing time might be reduced, and said he was pleased because this would ultimately help the team.

"It adds to the competitiveness of our practices and it makes each guy show up every day and try to show the coaches what we have to offer," he said.

Penn State's stable of running backs hasn't been healthy since the second quarter of the Ohio game. Belton grimaced when he fell in the third quarter, and a golf cart shuttled him to the locker room. He hasn't seen the field since, and a domino line of injuries followed.

Penn State struggled running in the first three games and averaged just 3.5 yards a carry. Against Temple, Zordich and Zach Zwinak -- now known as the Killer Z's -- pounded the middle for more than 5 yards with every touch.

And if PSU can run the ball with two fullbacks, some players are wondering just how this offense might look with a speedy Belton, powerful Dukes and balanced Day.

"I'm really curious," linebacker Mike Hull said Tuesday. "The running backs that filled in did a great job, but getting these guys back is really going to make a difference and create some problems this week."