Oct 062010
 
Penn State RB Evan Royster

Penn State RB Evan Royster

by Mike Prince, Sportswriter:

What possible reason could there be that a very highly-touted running back comes into a game, gets a handoff, makes some impressive moves and gains 19 yards on his first play of the game — and then we don’t see him again until the game is basically over?

Is the Penn State coaching staff that afraid to bench a senior running back?

Here’s a better question: Has there ever been a tailback in Nittany Lions history that has had a bigger regression from his first two seasons to his last two seasons than Evan Royster?

And the most important question: When does the PSU coaching staff finally step in and realize this and do something about it?

Royster is only 425 yards shy of erasing the school career rushing mark of 3,398 yards, which has been held by Curt Warner since 1982. Breaking the all-time rushing record at a school that has featured such players as John Cappelletti, Curtis Enis, Ki-Jana Carter and Warner, to name a few, is a pretty big deal, right? Personally, I’ve never seen so many meaningless yards in my life.

After redshirting his freshman season, Royster broke in with the Lions in 2007 as a back-up to Tony Hunt and immediately made a difference. In 2008, Royster gave Penn State fans something to be excited about, racking up 1,236 yards and 12 touchdowns on 191 carries for an average of 6.5 yards per carry. In his junior season, he still gained over 1,000 yards, but so many of them came late in games.

Garbage yardage. It’s what Royster has become famous for over the past two seasons. He breaks off one big run late in a game that isn’t in doubt and inflates his stats. To an average football fan that checks box scores and watches a few highlights here and there, Royster may come off as star – as a tailback that any team would be lucky to have. Even Sports Illustrated picked him as the preseason’s top running back in the Big Ten.

But for anyone who has sat down and suffered through handoff after handoff for Royster over the past two seasons, they would see the truth. He has little speed and he almost no elusiveness. He can’t seem to find or hit the holes that he used to and that made him good enough to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2008. He came into camp this year overweight and outside of a 187-yard performance against an average Temple team, he’s been arguably the most frustrating aspect of a team whose offense is ranked either last or second-to-last in nearly every single important statistical category in the Big Ten.

That’s Evan Royster for you. He contemplated the NFL last season, but decided to forgo the draft and return for his senior season, much to the displeasure of many Penn State faithful. While it was probably the best decision for him to return for one more year, it may have hurt the Lions in the process.

Royster’s regression is doing nothing but hurting the Penn State offense, decreasing the amount of touches the speedy Stephfon Johnson gets and most of all, leaving Silas Redd – a guy who was ranked as the top player in the state, the fourth best running back in the nation and the 44th overall player in the country – standing on the sidelines just waiting….waiting for his chance to prove himself.

Sure, he has plenty of time to do, but why waste it?

That “chance” to prove himself has arisen thus far this season. In the first week, Redd came in late in the game and had three runs. In his first ever touch as a Penn Stater, he dazzled the crowd with some remarkable cut-backs and dekes and broke off a 13-yard run. On the very next play, he made two defenders miss him and picked up a very well-earned five yards.

Against Alabama, in arguably the toughest game the Nittany Lions have played since facing the second-ranked Miami Hurricanes in the opening week of the 2001 season, the PSU offense was struggling. It could barely pick up a first down and it seemed like every play was an obstacle. And guess what? Redd was nowhere to be found.

There had to be a reason, right? Maybe Royster was having a great game or Penn State was doing so well offensively, that they didn’t need to use Redd. Not exactly. Royster did next to nothing. The few times Green got the ball, he couldn’t pick up more than a couple yards. And when Redd finally came into the game – with the score 24-0 in favor of Alabama late already in the fourth quarter, Redd ripped off a seven-yard run on his first touch. A couple touches later, with one of the worst offensive lines you’ll see in college football this season, Redd, all by himself, ran to the outside and picked up 11 yards on a carry.

He didn’t even see the field against Temple, but that’s OK. Royster had the game of his life. I mean, 187 yards is an impressive number. He should probably be named to the Big Ten All-First Team after the season. It’s just too bad he couldn’t find the end zone and the Nittany Lions won by a whopping nine points.

When players are as highly recruited coming out of high school as Redd is, the ‘Heisman buzz’ begins almost immediately. With a good offensive line in front of him, I truly believe that Redd is going to be a legitimate candidate to win the award by his junior season.

Redd has all the tools to make an immediate impact and become a household name shortly after getting some regular playing time.

He’s a strong runner with excellent agility who tore up his lesser competition back in high school in Connecticut. His blend of perimeter speed and toughness, along with his confidence and the right amount of swagger will help him thrive as a tailback. He can be patient when handed off the ball, but he shows proper urgency out of his stance. At 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, he has a strong build and a body composition that you’d want to see from a running back at the college level.

On top of all his abilities and physical stature, his attitude should have him poised for great things at Happy Valley.

Redd, along with five-star quarterback recruit Paul Jones, enrolled early at Penn State to get a jump on the conditioning and training programs that go along with becoming a successful football player at the next level. And while many top recruits choose schools based on playing time and aren’t happy unless they see the field early, Redd said he was perfectly happy with redshirting his freshman year at PSU, as he said after the annual Blue-White game back in April.

“It was a little nerve-wrecking being out there and hopefully, if I don’t get redshirted, I can just make plays any way I can,” he said. “Whether it’s on special teams or on carries, I’ll do whatever I can. I don’t mind if I don’t play this year because I always wanted to come to Penn State, so to just be on the team is good enough. Playing time in a bonus for me.”

If Paterno and offensive coordinator Galen Hall, along with the rest of the Nittany Lions coaching staff, aren’t going to give Redd more playing time, then what was the point of wasting his opportunity at redshirting his freshman season and gaining a year of football knowledge and a year to get bigger and better, while leaving the possibility of playing inside of Beaver Stadium for another year in the future?

It’s evident that the 2010 season is going to be nothing more than a rebuilding year for Penn State. Hopefully, Royster can find that extra step in his game that he had back in 2008 and the Nittany Lions can pull out some wins against the teams that they are expected to beat. If not, then there is no reason that Redd should not be out there on the field for as many, if not more touches than Royster and Green.

After all, the true freshman did have offers to Michigan, Oregon and several other schools and had early interest from such powerhouses as Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida and Texas, to name a few. He’s got the talent to help a team win and he deserves a chance to prove so.

If Paterno isn’t afraid to bench his senior running back – which is something that really doesn’t fit in with his long coaching history – then why Redd hasn’t gotten his opportunity yet remains a mystery.

Hopefully, it’s one that can be figured out or better yet, taken care of sooner than later.

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Mike Prince writes for PSC, the Montgomery News and on his Blog.  You can also Follow him on Twitter.

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