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Royster focused on '09, with eye toward NFL

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Like any other prominent Big Ten football player, Penn State's Evan Royster knows what it's like to be recruited.

He just didn't expect the process to start up again.

Soon after Royster completed a stellar sophomore season in which he ran for 1,236 yards and 12 touchdowns, his phone began to ring. Agents were on the other line, telling the Penn State running back what he needed to do to get to the next level.

"It feels like high school all over again with the recruiting, getting calls from agents saying what they like about your game," Royster said. "It's definitely just like getting calls from college coaches. It's pretty cool, but it's still making me realize I have a lot to work on."

The fun part is that Royster hears how his game stacks up to those of NFL backs. The most common comparison he hears is easy on the ears -- Chicago Bears standout Matt Forte, who finished second among NFL rookies with 1,238 rush yards in 2008.

The hard part for Royster is identifying the flaws in his game.

In the coming days, Royster plans to seclude himself in one of Penn State's film rooms, watch clips of himself and attempt to break down his own game.

"You've got to watch yourself on film like you're watching somebody else, like you're scouting," Royster said. "It's like I was playing defense or something, and I'm scouting another team's running back."

Royster wants to improve his footwork, making sure he makes cuts off the correct foot and preventing his feet from getting tangled up. He's hoping to identify other flaws during the self-critique.

One area of Royster's game that mirrors Forte's and will undoubtedly appeal to NFL teams is his patient running style. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound junior doesn't do a lot of dancing in the backfield, and he usually waits for his blocks to develop before hitting a hole.

"It's something that all my coaches have stressed," Royster said. "There's times when you see the hole and you need to hit it, but if it's a little crease and you're trying to hit something like that, sometimes it doesn't work and you need to stay behind the big guys and follow them up the field.

"They can get some push, and if you're following them, you can get four or five yards out of it. We had some [offensive linemen] last year who were pushing guys all over the place."

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Royster is one that he doesn't totally control.

Though he finished fourth in the Big Ten in rushing average last season (95.1 yards per game), he was well behind the leaders in rushing attempts with only 191.

Of the nation's top 30 rushers last season, Royster (28th) had the fewest number of carries.

Penn State returns a strong stable of running backs next fall, including dynamo Stephfon Green and burly sophomore Brandon Beachum. Royster expects the touches to be spread out again, but he knows that 14.7 carries per game probably won't get it done at the next level.

Forte, after all, finished his Tulane career with 809 rushing attempts and averaged 30.1 carries as a senior in 2007.

"I do want to show some people that I can be an every-down back," Royster said. "I want to be that guy, I want to be the only one, but it would be really tough to eliminate Stephfon and Beachum because they're such good backs. Stephfon's got all the speed in the world, and Beachum's got all the power.

"I've been talking to a couple agents, and they see from my running style that I can be an every-down back because of the pass-blocking and being able to run the ball between the tackles. It's not talked about too much, but I guess I've got to show some people that I can. It will definitely help me out."

Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno has been pleased with Royster's progress this spring. Green is out for spring ball following ankle surgery, so Royster is getting most of the touches.

"Royster's a very good football player," Paterno said. "Our running back situation is good."

Despite his NFL aspirations, Royster remains focused on the immediate goals and the coming season. The team, he said, is "what's most important right now."

But if he replicates his production from 2008, Royster likely will have a decision to make.

"If I'm projected to go first or second round, there's definitely a possibility that I'd leave," he said. "But no decisions are being made until after the season. We'll see how things go."