Zach Zwinak, RB (6-foot-1, 226 pounds)
There's little doubt that Silas Redd is the primary back when it comes to carrying the ball for Penn State. However, the spring saw another effective ball-carrier emerge in redshirt sophomore Zach Zwinak. With about three inches and 25 pounds on Redd, Zwinak proved to be a perfect complement to Redd, which good quickness and the ability to blast through a hole.
Zwinak's exposure to Penn State fans has been limited given the fact he sustained an ACL injury while redshirting in 2010 and saw limited action in two games last season — getting three carries for seven yards.
Now, fully recovered Zwinak has added another dimension to the ground game with his power style of running.
That's not to take anything away from converted wideout Bill Belton, who was also effective at tailback in the spring. But Belton is similar to Redd in a lot of ways, as opposed to being a change of pace.
Strength: Zwinak is said to have good strength and a "fearless aggression" on the field. As one observer said, "He's one of those guys who is pretty reserved in the locker room but flips the switch once he gets on the field."
Zwinak does not shy away from contact, which is actually something the staff has been working on with him. "He loves to lay out a hit, which is great, but you don't always have to run over guys," an observer said. "He needs to go for the open (space), but he doesn't seem to be wired that way."
Hands: He has "decent hands"and has shown "strong receiving fundamentals." He's been working on squaring his body on runs to provide a target. Although he's not being looked at as a go-to receiver for the offense, his ability to catch balls will provide another wrinkle in the pass game.
As one observer said, "If he can get consistent with releasing to become a target, that adds a nice option for the quarterbacks."
Speed: Zwinak won't be confused with a breakaway back. But he has good speed and — more importantly — hits a hole very quickly. Once past the first level, he is usually looking for someone to hit rather than — as noted earlier — seeking open ground.
A key part of hitting a hole quickly is recognizing it. Zwinak is said to have great vision in that way. Because of it, he will figure prominently in Penn State short-yardage and goal-line offenses.
Blocking: Zwinak has good size to pick up assignments. As one observer explained, "He sets pretty well, but he needs to stay with it at times to let the runner get by."
Zwinak is a tailback. But if he can improve his blocking, he could be a serious threat at fullback. Imagine him lining up in the backfield in front of Redd or Belton.
Attitude: This is said to be among his strongest attributes. Zwinak has a receptive attitude to coaching and welcomes feedback.
"He wants to get better and asks the staff and players how he can improve," an observer said. "That shows a lot of maturity."
Impact: Again, with Redd expected to be the primary tailback, Penn State's staff is looking for backs who can add different looks and dimensions to the offense.
Power back Curtis Dukes did himself no favor by being forced to miss the spring to focus on academic issues. That opened the proverbial door and Zwinak stepped right through it.
Dukes will now have his work cut out for him trying to get back into the rotation.
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