If there is one thing that has impressed Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan since he started his job in January, it's the ability of senior running back Bill Belton to fearlessly move his body into the way of a blitzing linebacker on pass plays.
"He's a pretty tough kid," Donovan said Monday of Belton, a senior running back from Winslow Township High School in Camden County. "He's a good pass protector, which is something that's not always easy for a running back.
"You normally wouldn't think the guy could be great at pass protection," he added, probably in reference to Belton's size of 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds. "But he'll attack the linebackers and he'll stick the safety. He's got very good vision on where the blitz is coming. He's probably doing as good a job in that aspect as anything else."
Getting better at pass protection was one of Belton's tasks for getting more playing time from former coach Bill O'Brien. But his time increased last season and he rushed for 803 yards and caught 15 passes out of the backfield.
Donovan wouldn't announce a starter for Saturday's season opener in Dublin, Ireland, against Central Florida. He called Belton and fellow senior Zach Zwinak "1 and 1-A."
"They've played a lot of ball and they're going to play a lot of ball for us here and now," he said. "It's hard to play running back the entire game, so you're going to need guys to spell each other and we'll see how it ultimately works out. But they complement each other well. They're two older guys. They're both going to play a lot."
Donovan said sophomores Akeel Lynch and Cole Chiappialle also are part of the mix at running back.
One area that hasn't been decided yet is at punter, where redshirt freshman Chris Gulla, a member of last year's team, is being pushed by freshmen Robby Liebel and Daniel Pasquariello. Pasquariello is from Melbourne, Australia, and enrolled at Penn State in the summer.
"We were able to get him in summer school early so he was able to kind of get adjusted and acclimated to a new environment, to a new game," special-teams coordinator Charles Huff said.
Huff said each candidate "has something that is unique to each one of them and a little bit different." He said there will be a special-teams staff meeting later this week "to iron out exactly which direction we're going to go. But right now it's a dead heat."
Off to Ireland
Penn State will bus to Harrisburg after practice Tuesday afternoon and then board a charter bound for Dublin, where the Nittany Lions are scheduled to arrive Wednesday morning.
The latest news Monday regarding the Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland that threatens to interrupt flights between the United States and Europe was that earthquakes continued to strike underground in the area but there had been no eruptions.