UNIVERSITY PARK — Running backs are filling Penn State’s training room.
Coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday that sophomore Bill Belton and senior Derek Day are “day to day” as they recover from injuries.
Belton injured his left ankle in the third quarter of a Week 1 loss to Ohio University. Day injured his left shoulder in the third quarter of last weekend’s loss to Virginia.
Both players are listed as “possible” on Penn State’s injury report.
“Not sure if they’re going to be able to play,” O’Brien said.
Junior Curtis Dukes and sophomore Zach Zwinak are Penn State’s top options if Belton and Day don’t heal before
Saturday’s game against Navy at Beaver Stadium.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Dukes made his 2012 running back debut last weekend, rushing for 30 yards on 10 carries.
Dukes missed spring drills for academic reasons.
O’Brien also said senior fullback Michael Zoridch could receive more work Saturday. Zordich has carried the ball three times through two games.
“We’ve got a lot of depth there,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got six guys that can play and all run the football and protect and catch the ball in the backfield. That’s a pretty solid position. We just have to keep grinding away with those guys.”
Belton didn’t travel to Virginia so he could spend last weekend in State College resting his ankle. Losing Belton, who moved from wide receiver to running back before spring drills, also hurts Penn State’s passing game. Belton caught three passes against Ohio.
“One thing Bill brings is that he’s a real good pass catcher,” sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “He was a receiver last year and that’s his biggest attribute other than running the ball.”
Akeel Lynch, one of the gems in the 2012 recruiting class, plays tailback.
But O’Brien would prefer redshirting Lynch this season. Lynch wasn’t among the six true freshmen who traveled to Virginia.
“Akeel is in the mix,” O’Brien said. “Ideally, I would really like to redshirt Akeel. I think he’s got a great future for us here at Penn State. He’s a very, very good player. We’ve got some veteran running backs that have played and are playing pretty good.”
Massaro trying to play through pain
Officially listed as ‘possible’ on Penn State’s most recent injury report, defensive end Pete Massaro confirmed the uncertainty surrounding his status for Penn State’s matchup with Navy on Saturday.
Massaro, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL and was slowed at the onset of the 2012 campaign with lingering symptoms from the injury, is now dealing with a shoulder ailment suffered late in the Nittany Lions’ loss to Virginia last weekend.
“I’m a little banged up right now to be honest,” Massaro said Tuesday.
Team doctors gave Massaro a platelet-rich plasma injection in late August that allowed him to join the defensive line rotation and an ultrasound performed last week showed healing progress in his surgically repaired knee.
Although he didn’t start in the season opener against Ohio, Massaro started against the Cavaliers last weekend. He made one tackle before leaving with the shoulder injury.
“I’m just taking it one day at a time right now and I hope I’m be able to (play),” Massaro said. “I hope this progresses quickly but I’m kind of new to shoulder injuries so we’ll see how it goes.”
Keeping military members, victims of 9/11 in mind
A rousing speech given before the Ohio game by former Penn State football player and Navy SEAL Rick Slater had a big impact on the Nittany Lions.
One of them, active duty Navy diver P.J. Byers, a fullback on the Penn State roster, asked for a copy of it.
He got two.
“I keep that in my locker and I have it electronically, too. Because I would love to at least have a speech for my guys in the future, to help lead some troops, hopefully,” Byers said.
On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of thousands of Americans, Byers spoke from the heart Tuesday when talking about his reasons for enlisting.
“I was a sophomore in high school. It was one of the small things that triggered me to push forward and join the military,” he said. “Those people are never forgotten and that’s one of the reasons why a lot of us are here, fighting for what we do.”
Byers isn’t the only Nittany Lion with military experience.
Freshman Brent Smith did two tours of duty in Iraq.
“This is a big week for them,” O’Brien said about Byers and Smith. “We’ve got a guy on staff, Stevie Williams ... his mom was in the Air Force for I think 26, 27 years, so you’re talking about a very special week for a lot of guys in our program and we have so much respect for the military and what it means to our country and so much respect for the Naval Academy and the work those guys put in.”
Jones in the mix
Third-year sophomore Paul Jones might finally be unveiled Saturday — as a tight end.
O’Brien said he plans on using the heralded quarterback recruit at ‘F’ tight end against Navy. Jones, who has missed the past two seasons for academic reasons, hasn’t appeared in a game since his final season at District 7 Sto-Rox High School.
Jones holds two roles for the Nittany Lions. He’s still playing quarterback, although true freshman Steven Bench is now the top backup behind senior Matt McGloin.
“He has a package of plays at quarterback,” O’Brien said of Jones. “He will play this week as an ‘F’ tight end.”