For any number of reasons, the PSU secondary was going to be a huge concern headed into the season. Both starting safeties (Drew Astorino, Nick Sukay) were moving on due to graduation, as were cornerbacks D’Anton Lynn and Chaz Powell. Presumed started Derrick Thomas was dismissed from the program, as was Curtis Dukes, who had shifted to defense to help alleviate concerns about depth, Senior CB Mike Wallace was lost for the year as well with recurring injury problems. The transfer of walk-on safety Tim Buckley was even enough to have a direct impact in the depth chart. As things stood by the time the season opener rolled around, PSU had just 2 cornerbacks (Adrian Amos, Stephon Morris) and 3 safeties (Malcolm Willis, Jacob Fagnano, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong) who had seen a snap at the college level.
Things did not exactly get off to a great start, as Ohio carved up the Lions defensive backs 324 yards through the air with a quick passing attack that the thin and inexperienced secondary. In fact, the game swung on Tyler Tettleton pass that deflected off the hands of Obeng-Agyapong as he collided with a teammate, into the hands of Landon Smith who went in for a TD that swung all momentum to Ohio. The following week in Charlottesville, Virginia QB Michael Rocco hit Jake McGee on a 43 yard pass on 3rd and long to keep what turned out to be the game winning drive alive. Those big plays would be a problem on and off throughout the season, as opponents were able to convert third downs in obvious passing situations with some consistency. As alluded to in yesterday’s linebackers post, the insertion of Mike Hull in those situations greatly improved the pass defense.
Adrian Amos’ return will be a huge key in the 2013 season, as Penn State will be forced to replace senior starter Stephon Morris at one corner and Jacob Fagnano at safety. Da’Quan Davis (CB) and Jordan Lucas (safety) both saw time this year as true freshman, and will likely see expanded roles going forward. Jake Kiley, another freshman CB who redshirted this season, is a name to file away. For a myriad of reasons, the secondary recruiting had left significant holes, and O’Brien’s staff has made that a focus of this year’s class, with 4 of the 18 current commitments playing cornerback or safety. Incoming cornerbacks Jordan Smith and Anthony Smith have enrolled early, which should give them a head start to contribute in the fall. Florida CB Neiko Robinson and Georgia safety Kasey Gaines should arrive on campus this summer to provide additional depth.
John Butler, who was promoted to defensive coordinator on Wednesday, deserves a ton of credit for managing a difficult situation with the limited depth and experience this past season. Outgoing coordinator Ted Roof should also be commended for leading the country’s 16th ranked scoring defense with the secondary he was handed. While the group made significant progress during the year, there were many areas that were still a concern, and depth will be an ongoing issue. I’ve been called a strict grader, but I can’t give this group more than a B-.
Follow VBR Lead Editor Matt de Bear on Twitter for all the latest on Penn State