Adrian Amos returns an interception during Penn State's victory over Indiana State. Sept. 3, 2011. (MIke Pettigano/BSD)
Penn State is known for strong defenses, anchored by a mean-looking front seven. This year looks to be no different - at least when it comes to the players on the line and the linebackers. The great unknown, however, comes deeper on the field, in the defensive backfield.
The good news for the 2012 season is that there should be some more overall defensive back cohesion, as it looks as though secondary coach John Butler will be in charge of both cornerbacks and safeties; last year, coordinator Tom Bradley coached the cornerbacks, while Kermit Buggs took the safeties. That, along with the 10-yard cushion that tends to come with much of the "bend-but-don't-break" playbook, will be the biggest change to look for this spring.
The biggest change, that is, aside from personnel. With all of the 2011 starters (Drew Astorino, D'Anton Lynn, Chaz Powell, and Nick Sukay) graduating, perhaps only the coaches know what we'll see on the field for the Blue-White game, and, by extension, in the fall. The way things are shaping up, though, the backfield could be a very scary position for Penn State, both in terms of experience and in overall depth.
|More Blue-White Countdown 2012…|
|Special Teams (Mike) - 4.9.12|
|Defensive Backfield (Cari) - 4.10.12|
|Linebackers (Mike) - 4.11.12|
|Defensive Line (Jared) - 4.12.12|
|Offensive Line (Devon) - 4.13.12|
|Tight Ends (Jeff) - 4.16.12|
|Wide Receivers (Jeff) - 4.17.12|
|Running Backs (Mike) - 4.18.12|
|Quarterbacks (Kyle) - 4.19.12|
Two deep: Derrick Thomas RS JR, Mike Wallace RS JR, Curtis Drake RS JR
Cornerback looks to be the stronger of the two D-back positions, though that may not be saying much, with both projected starters seeing a fair amount of time in 2011 due to the injury of Lynn. Amos especially showed flashes of pure brilliance in the 11 games he was on the field, including an interception returned 46 yards in his first ever collegiate game versus Indiana State. Amos added to his 13 total tackles (9 solo, 4 assisted) with 4 passes broken up and 5 passes defended, while Morris had 19 total tackles (12 solo, 7 assisted) along with 1 TFL, 5 passes broken up, and 5 passes defended during the 12 games he was on the field. Look for these two to be more agressive in new DC Ted Roof's "multiple" scheme, with Amos especially flourishing.
If he can stay out of BOB's doghouse, Thomas will try to lock down a role in the two-deep after playing sporadically the past two seasons (he saw action in 9 games, but only recorded 4 tackles; 3 solo, 1 assisted). Fan favorite Mike Wallace, after intercepting the first pass thrown in the 2011 Blue/White game, wasn't able to crack the two-deep last year, seeing time in only 4 games and recording one assisted tackle.
Perhaps the biggest question mark in the cornerback position will be Drake, who switches to the defensive side of the ball for the first time in blue and white. His natural athleticism and football ability could make him a Justin-King-like asset in the backfield, provided he stays healthy, learns the new defensive playbook, and keeps his punches to himself.
Other roster players: Tim Buckley RS FR, Jonathan Duckett RS SO
Here's the ugly of the defensive backfield: the safety position. Willis should be the defacto starter of this group, as he saw significant time the past two seasons with the sporadic injuries of Sukay and Astorino. He also saw significant time as the nickel back during passing downs, playing in a total of 12 games and recording a returning-secondary-high 19 tackles (12 solo, 7 assisted). Though he seemed to regress a bit in 2011, Willis did record 1 interception and 1 fumble recovery, as well as blocked a kick in his sophomore season.
After Willis comes a big question mark. SOA seems to be the other starter, by virtue of actually being on scholarship. He played in a total of 10 games last year, recording 11 tackles (7 solo, 4 assisted). After SOA, however, there are a slew of walk-on players led by special teams go-tos Keiser and Fagnano, both of whom saw time in 13 games last year and each recording 6 tackles (2 solo, 4 assisted).
Come fall the depth chart for this position could be very different, with two incoming freshmen (Jake Kiley and Jordan Lucas) joining the squad this summer. Additionally, as Junny pointed out in his spring practice depth chart post, if Thomas stays clean and pcks up his game, Amos (who the old staff originally targeted as a Safety) could switch to this position to provide much-needed depth.
A bit depressed? It's okay; tomorrow Mike looks at Linebackers, and if that doesn't get you excited, nothing will.