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Friday, March 29, 2013
NittanyNation mailbag: RBs, LBs & Issah

By Josh Moyer

Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions, and we've selected three to answer in-depth this week.

Corey McDonnell (@Team_McDonnell) writes: Which two running backs will get the most carries in 2013?

Josh Moyer: That's a tricky question to answer, because I don't think Bill O'Brien knows yet. At the practices I've seen so far, though, Zach Zwinak has handled first-team duties, while Bill Belton has played mostly with the second team.

Zach Zwinak
Zach Zwinak finished last season as Penn State's workhorse running back and has received most of the first-team carries in spring practice.
Akeel Lynch is quite the athlete and has earned a lot of rave reviews for his play so far. But, if the season started tomorrow, it most certainly would be Zwinak and Belton, with Lynch as the No. 3. I think carries will be dictated by their performances. (I know, I'm really going out on a limb here.) By that, I mean, O'Brien initially planned last year on having Belton run 20-25 times a game. When Zwinak outshined him, that plan changed. So nothing's concrete here.

O'Brien used a running back-by-committee approach in the middle of last season, then really just wound up using Zwinak as the workhorse the last few games. I see O'Brien going with the hot hand this season, because he's shown himself to have a flexible game plan.

Last season, in the last eight games, Zwinak received 62 percent of the running backs' carries. I see a smaller disparity between Belton and Lynch and don't think they'll be too far behind one another. So, if we go by last season's numbers, that means we can probably count on Belton-Lynch splitting an average of about 15 carries a game. That's all subject to change, but that's my best guess at this point.

Fred Fordham writes in an email: What about linebacker recruiting? So far for 2013 and 2014, I only see Brandon Bell. If recruiting is down for the linebacker position, are we going to eventually lose the Linebacker U name? This would be very upsetting.

Josh Moyer: It's not quite that dire. ESPN lists 2013 signee Zayd Issah as an athlete, but he's going to play linebacker for PSU as well. (More on Issah below because that might be a bit more complicated right now.) Troy Reeder, a very athletic middle linebacker, also just committed from the 2014 class. And it appears as if PSU's looking to add one 2014 outside linebacker.

I talk to linebacker recruits all the time and, trust me, that reputation isn't going anywhere for quite awhile. I talked to recent LSU commit Sharieff Rhaheed, a Florida native, and asked him what he knew about Penn State. "Linebacker U," he replied. You don't lose that reputation in one or two down seasons.

With NaVorro Bowman, Sean Lee, Tamba Hali and Paul Posluszny in the NFL, PSU basically has a five-month long infomercial every year. The depth isn't ideal this season, especially with Ben Kline's shoulder surgery, but Mike Hull and and Glenn Carson are both All-Big Ten caliber players. Nyeem Wartman might not be ready for a starting workload, but he has four years of eligibility left -- so I have to think, even if he struggles this year, he has a bright future ahead of him.

Keith Dowdy (@MrDowdyJr) writes: What do you think ends up happening with Zayd Issah? (He was charged with felonies for allegedly trying to pass off counterfeit $20 bills.)

Josh Moyer: Well, it's kind of a tricky situation for O'Brien. No matter what he does, it's going to irk people. If he kicks Issah off the team before his May 9 preliminary hearing, then Joe Paterno admirers are going to be angry because of a snap judgment against Issah without him getting his day in court. If Issah stays on the team, Penn State critics are going to wonder aloud whether O'Brien actually has changed the "culture problem" and if he's putting football ahead of everything else now.

It's not an enviable position to be in. But I'd be surprised if O'Brien or PSU made a decision before May 9. If Issah is convincted of a felony, it's kind of a no-brainer. Issah needs to be off the team then. But if charges are dismissed or he pleads down to a misdemeanor, I think there's a really strong chance he remains with the team ... and I'd also think he'd still be on a short leash with this Penn State staff. Yes, defensive end Shawn Oakman was kicked off the team when he stole a $7 hoagie and a 75-cent fruit juice last year -- a misdemeanor -- but the difference was that he also frightened the female cashier by grabbing her wrist.

Issah cooperated with police, and there was no semblance of violence. He's a first-time offender. Will Issah be branded a troublemaker or a fool? Yeah, and he deserves that. But getting kicked off the team? In the words of the wise Magic 8 ball, "Ask again later." After the hearing.