Penn State's Franklin: 'You really need three running backs'

Penn State's Franklin: 'You really need three running backs'
August 4, 2014, 2:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

If you have one great running back, that's apparently not enough. Two? That won't be enough either.

No, according to James Franklin, when it comes to a stable of running backs, three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three.

"I really believe three is the number, and we're really blessed to have three guys we feel good about and some young guys who are going to get their opportunities," Franklin said Monday during Penn State Media Day. "If you look across the country, college or the NFL, you really need three running backs for a whole season, to keep those guys healthy and fresh, to rotate them. The other thing is, you look at whoever is going to be your third tailback, you'd love for that guy to be your kickoff return guy. It's a good way to keep him in the game and get his touches."

[MORE BIG TEN: Badgers RB tradition more than numbers for Melvin Gordon]

Franklin's got it all figured out, and he's also got a point.

It seems that the more running backs the better. Look no further than fellow Big Ten team Wisconsin, which thrived with three solid backs last season. Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement combined to make the Badgers the eight-best rushing team in the country.

And the NFL mention was a solid one, too. While you don't see a lot of three-back systems in the pros, the days of the workhorse back seem to be finished. Fantasy football players, in particular, know all too well how common it is for NFL teams to split carries among numerous backs.

[MORE BIG TEN: While defending Gamecocks' schedule, Spurrier slams Big Ten]

But three good backs are hard to find. Franklin seems happy with his crop, and the Nittany Lions featured three backs a season ago under Bill O'Brien. Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton got the majority of the carries, with Akeel Lynch serving in that No. 3 role. All three guys return this season, and while Zwinak and Belton figure to pick up where they left off, there are even more options than just Lynch behind the top two. Both Brandon Johnson and Deron Thompson sit above Lynch on the team's preseason depth chart.

Though all the focus might be on potential star quarterback Christian Hackenberg this season in State College, Zwinak and Belton nearly combined for 2,000 yards last season. The Lions' rushing attack could be just as potent as the pass game.