Penn State Football

Penn State Football Position Battles to Watch: Running Backs

With Penn State Football heading into spring practice, there are plenty of starting positions and playing time up for grabs for the Nittany Lions in 2024.

Even with plenty of starters and talent returning next season for Penn State, competition across the board is imperative to helping the Nittany Lions reach the College Football Playoff for the first time.

Over the next few weeks, we will break down key position groups that will see battles for starting positions and playing time throughout the spring and into fall camp.

In this series, the hope is to highlight key players and potential dark horses for players contributing in 2024.

With Drew Allar locked in at quarterback next season, our series with the running backs, where Penn State Football returns both starters, Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, from last season.

Penn State Football Starting Lineup

It is no surprise that both Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen will likely sharing the starting running back role again to open the 2024 season.

After both broke out in 2022 as true freshmen for the Nittany Lions, Singleton and Allen have rotated starts and seen almost identical touches throughout the past two seasons.

In 2023, Allen carried the ball 172 times for 902 yards and six touchdowns and added 14 receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown in the passing game.

On the other side, Singleton carried the ball 171 times for 752 yards and eight touchdowns and added 26 receptions for 308 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game.

Both backs struggled at the beginning of the season under Mike Yurcich’s offense and neither reached 100 rushing yards until week 12 against Michigan State (where both backs reached the threshold). While Allen produced a higher rushing average last season, neither back separated themselves from the other enough to necessitate naming a starter, instead with running back coach Ja’Juan Seider sticking with a two-back approach.

Expect this to continue in 2024 barring injury to either of Penn State’s feature backs as both backs look to take a step forward in their third year on campus under new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. With the new scheme, I would expect more two running back sets, as Kotelnicki explores ways to best utilize both backs skillsets and get Penn State’s playmakers the ball in space in the fall.

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Role players

One under the radar loss for Penn State heading into 2024 is the loss of third string running back Trey Potts.

While Potts did not have an overwhelming workload behind Singleton and Allen, he made the most of his opportunities, averaging 7.3 yards per touch in 2023. In only 29 total touches, Potts racked up 155 rushing yards, 57 receiving yards, two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown.

Potts also passed for a key 11-yard touchdown in Penn State’s week three win over Illinois.

Now, with Potts headed off to the NFL draft after one season with the Nittany Lions, Penn State will be looking to fill the third-string running back role with a few intriguing options.

Redshirt Freshmen

Neither London Montgomery (who was rehabbing a torn ACL last season) nor Cam Wallace recorded a touch last season en route to redshirt status in 2023. With one year in the Penn State strength and conditioning program, however, to get acclimated to Big Ten football, both Montgomery and Wallace could have a leg up in the competition for Penn State’s third-string back.

Penn State Football True freshmen

In addition to the two redshirt freshmen, Penn State brings in two intriguing true freshmen to compete for the third-string running back position.

Four-star running back Quinton Martin ranked third in the state of Pennsylvania and the sixth best running back in the country, according to 247Sports composite rankings.

With 27 total touchdowns as a senior, Martin is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, and if he takes to the strength and conditioning program early after enrolling in January, could push for playing time this fall.

On the other side, four-star running back Corey Smith out of Wisconsin brings dynamic speed as a track athlete but will not get the benefit of spring practice as a summer enrollee.

After never having redshirted a running back in his coaching career before 2023, Ja’Jaun Seider will have to sort through four running backs carrying freshmen eligibility in 2024 to figure out which back or backs will receive the coveted touches behind Singleton and Allen.

Spring and summer camps will be crucial for all four backs to prove they are deserving of the limited touches in Penn State’s 2024 offense and vie for an increased role in 2025 if Kaytron Allen or Nick Singleton (or both) decide to leave early in their first year eligible for the NFL draft in 2025.

MORE: Penn State’s Most Important Newcomers for 2024 Season

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