Depth Charting the 2012 Defense: Corners and Safeties

Adrian Amos sets up his blocks returning an interception during Penn State's victory over Indiana State. Sept. 3, 2011. (MIke Pettigano/BSD)

More 2012 Depth Charts
Quarterback
Running Back/Fullback
Defensive Line
Linebacker
Receivers

With the Ted Roof era of Penn State defense on the horizon, we're faced with what could possibly be the most dramatic shift in defensive backfield strategy we've seen in 50 years. That is, it might be time to wave good bye to corners playing 8-10 yards off the line of scrimmage more often than not. But could it really be that Penn State will play more man and press coverage this fall? We shall see. For now, we know that there is talent, but inexperience in the defensive backfield. And that could translate into something very good, or very stressful, in 2012.

The group of defensive backs will look very different from this past season, with D'Anton Lynn, Chaz Powell, Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino all graduating, or hopefully off to an NFL roster. Only one part-time starter returns for 2012: Stephon Morris. That's not to say there aren't other starts in the books for this group. Safety Malcolm Willis started a bunch of games in 2010 after Nick Sukay went down to injury.

Reason for concern here does come up due to the change in defensive staff. With Tom Bradley as coordinator, Penn State never really had a bad secondary, even when there was a complete turnover in personnel. 2003, 2006, and 2009 were all years when Penn State had to replace most, if not all, of its defensive backfield starters, yet had little drop-off in production. With Ted Roof on board, and as of this writing no defensive backs coach hired, we're left with one of the biggest enigmas on the 2012 team.

For now, let's see what we can make of this, starting with what we know. Those who return (caution: avert your eyes)...

Corners ELIG/CL Safeties ELIG/CL
Stephon Morris SR/SR Jacob Fagnano SR/GR
Derrick Thomas JR/SR Ryan Keiser JR/SR
Mike Wallace JR/SR Stephen Obeng-Agyapong JR/SR
Adrian Amos SO/SO Malcolm Willis JR/SR
Malik Golden
FR/FR Jonathan Duckett FR/SO
Jake Kiley
FR/FR Tim Buckley FR/SO

Okay, maybe it's time to start panicking on the corners. With only four guys returning who have a legit shot to play meaningful snaps this season, the stakes suddenly jumped in the recruitment of Massachusetts corner Armani Reeves. The kid could come in this week and be nearly guaranteed to play in every game. But that's not what we're talking about here. What's going on right now is pretty scary for Penn State. Derrick Thomas has a good chance for a fresh start, after spending two years in JoePa's dog house. Mike Wallace is a good player, but hasn't been able to break through. Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris are the likely starters right now.

This all comes down to how Ted Roof sets up the secondary, and who Bill O'Brien brings in as the defensive backs coach.

Morris had a great true freshman season in 2009, starting the one game at Michigan State. He was bumped up to full-time starter in 2010, with 10 starts. But last season he only entered the starting lineup twice. Morris has real talent, but has been very inconsistent. Opposite him will likely be Amos, who became a fan favorite by season's end. In his first game, he picked off a pass and returned it 40-something yards. Amos eventually earned the starting spot against Iowa when Penn State played a lot of five-DB coverage. He has all the makings of a star, but we'll see.

Wallace and Thomas are really the two here that will swing this position either way, from good to poor. Thomas was a great prospect coming in, but kept getting into trouble with Paterno. He played in a few games in 2010, but was not seen after week five. This past year, he was in hiding once again. Wallace, meanwhile, was a good recruit, but unable to break into the starting lineup. Both of these guys will have to step up do well in spring ball to offer the position depth.

I don't know enough about Jake Kiley or Malik Golden to project how they will play this fall, if they play at all. But with the depth situation thin as ever, look for them to see time.

As for the safeties, it's a better situation. Malcolm Willis is one of my favorite up-and-comers for the last two years. Despite being stuck behind Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, he's played remarkably well when called upon. With more of a solo-role to play in 2012, Willis is one of the best defensive backs on the team. But next to him will be inexperience no matter who starts. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong came into Happy Valley a decent recruit (three or four stars), but like others, hasn't been able to crack through the wall of seniors in front of him. "SOA" has played sparingly. This could be his one shot before next year's recruiting class possibly brings in a formidable challenger to his likely starting spot.

Ryan Keiser was being hyped up a bit last off-season, with reports that he was bucking for the No. 2 safety spot behind the starters. It never panned out, so we're left with "well, was it real?" I'm not sure, but he and Jacob Fagnano are old hats in the depth chart who could become the last line of defense for this position, should the injury bug strike.

Hold on to your hats, it could get pretty hairy in the backfield this season.

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