STATE COLLEGE — In the NFL, Bill O'Brien said, you can spot the running backs right away. About 5-foot-11. Muscular. Built low to the ground.
Exactly what Penn State's new coach saw in Bill Belton.
A wide receiver last season as a true freshman, Belton is suddenly Penn State's starting running back after the departure of Silas Redd.
When the team reassembled this past spring, Belton went to join the receivers before O'Brien stopped him.
"Where are you going?" O'Brien said.
"I'm a receiver," Belton responded.
"No, you're a running back," O'Brien said.
And he was impressive enough to come out of spring ball as the second-stringer behind Redd. When Redd left for USC, O'Brien didn't hesitate to name Belton his new starter.
"It wasn't that big of a switch (to running back)," Belton said Thursday at Penn State's media day. "Making the transition was very easy. During my childhood, I grew up playing running back. So this wasn't something out of the ordinary."
Belton played some quarterback at Winslow Township High School in New Jersey, but he did more running than throwing. Enough to help prepare him for the biggest chance of his young career.
Penn State has other options at the position, including Derek Day, Curtis Dukes, Akeel Lynch and Zach Zwinak. But O'Brien said he has confidence that Belton can still handle a heavy load of 20 or more carries a game.
"Yes. Yes," O'Brien said firmly. "He showed us he has really good feet. He's got a unique ability to be able to balance, put his hand on the ground, balance himself and spin. He's done a much better job – knock on wood – of ball security. He has really good hands out of the backfield. So I feel good about Billy.
"I think he's grown up in the last six or seven months. … Can he carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game? I think he can. (Strength coach Craig Fitzgerald) has got him ready to go to take the pounding in the Big Ten."
Since the NCAA imposed sanctions on the Lions last month, O'Brien has had a consistent public message.
Turn the page. Move forward. Stop complaining about the penalties and figure out how to deal with them.
That has been a little tougher to do in the past week as several groups have filed appeals with the NCAA, hoping to overturn the sanctions. In separate cases, the family of Joe Paterno, members of the school's board of trustees and former Penn State football players have all appealed.
The NCAA quickly rejected all of them. Penn State signed a consent decree, precluding any formal appeal.
"I respect everybody's individual decision to do what they have to do, what they think is right," O'Brien said when asked if the legal wrangling ran counter to his message. "That is their individual opinion or their group's opinion, and I respect that. I would never step into the middle of that. That's not what I want to do. I'm here to be the football coach."
Sophomore kicker Sam Ficken showed off his leg in practice on Friday, nailing all three short-range field goals he attempted over the net and clanging loudly off the top of the wall of the team's Holuba Hall practice facility.
Ficken will likely take over field goal and kickoff duties for the departed Anthony Fera. O'Brien said that Alex Butterworth and Matt Marcincin are competing for the punting job.
At quarterback, Matt McGloin is entrenched as the starter, but O'Brien said sophomore backup Paul Jones will get a chance to see the field at some point.
"Yeah, Paul will play this year," O'Brien said. "Paul will play. Paul is a good player, an instinctive guy, a playmaker. He's progressed. So he'll definitely see time this year."