With the start of spring practice inching closer, VBR’s series of early position previews is also in the final stretch. Today’s edition looks at the secondary, an area that really struggled in 2013. The Nittany Lions were one of the worst teams in the Big Ten at defending the pass. They will look to turn that around this year.
The Nittany Lions had problems with depth and consistency in the secondary during the 2013 season. Former head coach Bill O’Brien and former defensive coordinator John Butler experimented with several different combinations, moving players around to try to find the best fit. Adrian Amos, who had always played cornerback, was moved to safety before the season started. He was eventually moved back to corner. Former wide receivers Trevor Williams and Malik Golden were switched to the defensive backfield before last season began in an effort to provide more depth.
Entering this season, the group should be able to get off to a better start than last year. Though Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis are no longer around, there are several returning players who gained valuable experience in 2013. However, there will still be some depth and talent issues within the unit.
The clear leader of the secondary is Amos. He’s started every game over the past two season and been a great player over his career at Penn State. Amos should settle into his natural cornerback position and will certainly be relied on heavily in his senior campaign. Last year he recorded 50 total tackles, including two and a half sacks.
Joining Amos in the starting rotation at cornerback will be Jordan Lucas. He started every game last year and was perhaps the most improved player on defense as the season progressed. Lucas seemed to have a knack for making big plays at important times during a game. The big-hitter was third on the team with 65 tackles. He also forced two fumbles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.
The combination of Amos and Lucas on the outside could give the Nittany Lions one of the best cornerback duos in the Big Ten.
Aside from the starters, several cornerbacks with game experience will also be around. Trevor Williams, Da’Quan Davis, Anthony Smith and Jordan Smith all saw time last year and will provide depth in 2014.
Penn State will have several different options for 2014 when it comes to the safety position. Ryan Keiser started the final four games of the season, and while his cover skills were often criticized by some, his experience can’t be overlooked. He should begin 2014 as a starter. The other safety position could be filled by a number of players. Jesse Della Valle should have the edge due to playing the last two seasons in the defensive backfield.
Malik Golden played in 11 games last season and will serve as a backup. Kasey Gaines, a redshirt freshman, will also be in the mix at safety this year.
Based on the 2014 recruiting class, it’s clear the coaching staff is aware of the depth issues in the secondary. Six recruits are listed as defensive backs. Of the new bunch, 4-star athlete Koa Farmer stands to see the most playing time. He could serve as a hybrid player at both linebacker and safety, just like Stephen Obeng-Agyapong did last year.
Much like last season, don’t be surprised to see different looks in the secondary early on in 2014. There are several interchangeable parts and James Franklin and his coaching staff are going to have to figure out which combination works the best.
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