UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - Penn State's depth is being tested before the Nittany Lions play a single snap.
Transfers in the aftermath of strict NCAA sanctions and other offseason departures have new coach Bill O'Brien focusing not on who has departed, but who will step up.
"The next guy steps up, next guy is ready to go," he said at the team's media day. "It's your chance to shine."
The leader of this blue-and-white band of replacements might be sophomore Bill Belton, who figures to take over at tailback after 1,200-yard rusher Silas Redd dashed to Southern California. Redd was among nine players who took advantage of an NCAA allowance to transfer immediately to another school to play this season.
"It definitely changes your mindset. You've got to prepare differently, do a lot of things different," said Belton, a converted wideout who was a run-pass threat as a quarterback in high school.
He's relying on his brief tenure as Redd's understudy - and tutelage from running backs coach Charles London - to get up to speed on the tailback position.
"As a backup, you've got to prepare as a starter. That's one thing I did. I learned a lot of things from Silas here," Belton said. "Coach London definitely prepares all the backs to be the next guy up. That's how it looks going forward."
Belton can also draw from his 13 carries and 65 yards in the Wildcat offense last season.
"London has done a heck of a job coaching him," O'Brien said. "Can he carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game? I think he can."
Getting Belton to produce anything close to Redd's output would be a boon to a passing game that's being retrofitted in the mold of the high-scoring attack at O'Brien's previous stop - the New England Patriots. Senior Matt McGloin finally has a firm grasp on the starting job after two seasons of uncertainty.
But it's the receiving position that's now in question after senior Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma. Speedy senior Devon Smith also left earlier in the offseason for off-the-field reasons. As a result, Shawney Kersey and Allen Robinson - a pair of young, untested receivers - figure to be targeted repeatedly.
"These guys are 6-3, they both can run, jump, they have great hands," O'Brien said. "They're good competitors. They're tough."
Robinson said he learned from Brown.
"J.B. was an influence on me, coming out as a young player," he said. "Some players made a decision to leave. I wish them the best. Again, we have to move on. I'm excited to step into the role. I'm making sure I'm staying in the playbook late at night to make sure when Sept. 1 comes, I'm ready to pick this role up."
Replacing Smith in the slot could be 6-foot receiver Alex Kenney, a track and football standout at State College High who seems like a perfect fit for O'Brien's pro-style offense. He said the biggest challenge has been learning a new playbook.
"The receivers got together two nights a week and reviewed the playbook. We're going to continue to do that throughout camp," he said. "It's very intricate, but with a little study time, we can make it work."
Like Belton, Kersey and Robinson, Kenney said he must move forward and be ready to step up this fall.
"It's really an unfortunate situation with the ways things have gone and the people who have left, but we've just trying to move forward," he said. "This is a new opportunity for me."
And he can begin to cash it in on Sept. 1, when Penn State opens the season against Ohio.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.