O'Brien says Robinson, Belton will start

Penn State's offense took major hits when star running back Silas Redd and top receiver Justin Brown transferred. But the Nittany Lions are beginning to find some answers in training camp.

Head coach Bill O'Brien said in a teleconference with reporters Thursday that sophomore Bill Belton "has definitely cemented himself as the starter" at running back. While others, including Curtis Dukes, Derek Day and freshman Akeel Lynch will also see time at tailback, there's little doubt that Belton will get the first carries in the Sept. 1 opener against Ohio. Belton had an 80-yard touchdown run in practice this week, and O'Brien said his pass protection has improved.

O'Brien also said that Allen Robinson, who had three catches last season as a true freshman, has earned one of the starting jobs at wide receiver.

Some other notes from O'Brien's call:

  • The kicking game was thrown into flux when punter/kicker Anthony Fera transferred to Texas. O'Brien said Sam Ficken has had a good camp at place-kicker, but the punting situation is "an on-going battle" between Alex Butterworth and Matt Marcincin, neither of whom has shown enough consistency.

  • O'Brien said he has been "very pleased" with the secondary, which is replacing all four starters from last year. That's even with the season-ending injury to cornerback Mike Wallace and projected starting safety Jake Fagnano missing time with a hamstring. True freshmen DaQuan Davis and Jordan Lucas and sophomore Stephen Obeng-Agyapong have shown improvement, he said. And Adrian Amos is one of the team's best players who O'Brien says can move all around.

  • Sophomore Miles Dieffenbach has nearly won the starting spot at left guard.

  • Much has been made about Penn State's increased use of tight ends, given O'Brien's work as offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. But O'Brien cautioned that Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez aren't on the Nittany Lions' roster. "I think we've got to stop with the comparisons between what we did with Gronkowski and Hernandez and what we'll do at Penn State," he said. O'Brien did single out true freshman tight end Brent Wilkerson as someone who has had an impressive camp.