Tom Brady. 40 points per game. Wes Welker. Rob Gonkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Those are the things we think about when we think about the New England Patriot offense. Those are the things many Penn State fans are dreaming about when they think about what Bill O’Brien is going to do to the Nittany Lions’ offense.
Or, more likely, maybe not.
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O’Brien doesn’t have Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez – and he sure doesn’t have Tom Brady.
Without question, fans can expect a more sophisticated offense than what they have been used to.
But…they can also expect a familiar reliance on the running game – even without Silas Redd.
“I think that any good offensive team has to be able to run the football when they absolutely need yards,” O’Brien said Thursday. “We have to be able to run the football.”
The biggest share of that task appears to be headed for sophomore Bill Belton.
Last we saw Belton (or at least what is remembered most), he was ripping through the Ohio State defense from the quarterback position in the Wildcat formation
Yes, it was only one game and yes, it was a surprise to the Buckeye defense. Yet, it did show glimmers of what fans have to look forward to in Belton.
O’Brien and his staff took one look at Belton in the winter and decided he wasn’t being used to his fullest at receiver. The new coach immediately made him a running back and now, with the transfer of Redd, it may be the most important decision he has made.
Belton had a strong spring and has continued to impress through the first two weeks of camp.
“He’s definitely cemented himself as the starter at this point,” O’Brien said of Belton. “He’s had a good camp. He had an 80-yard touchdown run two scrimmages ago. His pass protection has gotten a lot better; he’s catching the ball out of backfield. Billy’s a good football player.”
Even without Redd, there’s a decent stable of running backs on the Penn State roster. The fact that Belton has clearly distinguished himself as the starting back is impressive.
O’Brien said other backs will play and mentioned Derek Day, Zach Zwinak and true freshman Akeel Lynch. Lynch is highly heralded and was the subject of intense recruitment after the NCAA sanctions came out so he’s clearly no slouch.
But it will be Belton who gets the start and will most likely get the biggest share of carries.
So while fans are hoping for an offense that throws it all over the field, don’t be surprised if it’s some more of the same on offense. Only this year it will be with Bill Belton.
Marty Valania covers football for nittanylionsden.com. Follow @EastRecruiting on Twitter.
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