Last year around this time everyone was chomping their fingernails down to the knuckle worrying about the secondary. With all four starters from the 2009 Rose Bowl graduating, nobody knew how things were going to shake out other than Drew Astorino, who played admirably in the nickel package as a redshirt freshman, was going to land somewhere. Uncertainty was in the air, but looking back now things turned out pretty good.
D'Anton Lynn locked down a cornerback position. A.J. Wallace did pretty well as the other cornerback. And Astorino and Nick Sukay did a good job in the middle. And true freshman Stephon Morris stepped up and secured a spot on the nickel package with his aggressive play. This group didn't exactly shut down opposing passing games, but outside of giving up a Terrell Pryor arm punt for a touchdown to DeVier Posey, they didn't really get embarrassed either. Penn State ended up ranked No. 24 in the NCAA in pass defense giving up 185 yards per game through the air, and they ranked No. 15 in pass efficiency defense. I'll take those numbers every year if I can get them.
So looking ahead to 2010 it would appear that everything is settled in the secondary. Wallace is the only player lost from last year, and it would make perfect sense to slide Morris into that role and keep right no chugging. But that's not entirely the case.
After the season it was revealed that Astorino was suffering from a shoulder injury he played with through much of the year. He had to have surgery on the shoulder, and this spring he is sitting out of everything in order to heal. He will certainly be the starter on opening day, but for now Penn State has to shuffle some people around so they can practice with 11 guys on the field. Much of the talk is centering around D'Anton Lynn moving to safety, where many people have felt from day one he was better suited from the beginning. Last year he was kind of forced into playing cornerback due to the lack of bodies there. So he and Sukay will probably be the primary guys playing the safety spots this spring with guys like Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong fighting for a spot on the two-deep.
OMG...Now we need TWO cornerbacks
With Wallace leaving and Lynn moving to safety, that would seem to be the case. As stated earlier, Morris is a natural to claim one of those spots, and I'm feeling pretty good about that after seeing him play last year. The other spot I'm not so sure about.
With all of the young explosive talent at wide receiver, the coaches have made the decision to move Chaz Powell back to defense where he played during his redshirt year as a freshman. Even though he mostly played safety as a redshirt, the transition should be pretty smooth for him as he should have a good understanding of the coverages. The other guy to keep an eye on is Derrick Thomas. The coaches really wrestled with the idea of taking the redshirt off of Thomas last season. He has been described as a carbon copy of Morris, only four inches taller and 20 lbs. heavier.
So for the spring, it looks like your cornerbacks will be some combination of Powell, Morris, and Thomas with Lynn and Nick Sukay playing safety. But come opening day my guess is the lineup will be Morris and Lynn at corner with Astorino and Sukay playing deep.