Nov. 12, 2011. Curtis Drake (7) catches a deflected pass in the first quarter. Penn State fell to Nebraska, 17-14, in Beaver Stadium. (BSD/Mike Pettigano)
With Curtis Drake's departure from the Penn State football team due to academic issues, a once-promising collegiate career appears to have come to a premature end. Though it seems Drake may continue to take classes at the university--or perhaps look to transfer to another school--his on-field absence was confirmed by Coach O'Brien last week, and leaves a void in a position already dogged by concerns not only in depth, but also talent.
Drake came to Penn State in 2009, a consensus 3-star recruit who played multiple positions in high school, including quarterback. He was recruited as an "athlete", and some expected him to contribute right away in a Derrick Williams-type all purpose role.
He didn't break out as much as some had hoped his freshman season; Drake saw action in 11 games but only recorded 8 receptions for 98 yards. Perhaps the shining moment from that campaign was during the Michigan State game, when he took a handoff from QB Daryll Clark and lobbed a touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless. That play broke a 7-7 tie, led to a 28-point beating of the Spartans, and got many Penn State fans incredibly excited for what looked to be a standout career for Drake in the blue and white.
Then, the injuries hit. Drake broke his leg in the first week of preseason practice in 2010, forcing him to take a medical redshirt. In the first week of spring practice in 2011, he broke his leg again, leading to a diagnosis of calcium deficiency and bone density issues. He recovered in time for the 2011 season, however, quickly enough to see time in eight games. Arguably, his greatest performance of the season came in Ohio Stadium, when Drake shared wildcat duties with Bill Belton and helped the offense to its best performance since the season opener against Indiana State.
Drake's story, however, wasn't confined to on-field performance. In the summer of 2010, he, along with former Penn State basketball player Taran Buie, was cited for fighting in front of the McDonald's on East College Ave. A few months later, Drake again found himself on the radar of the State College police--in February 2011, he was cited alongside Buie, DB Derrick Thomas, and former PSU basketball player Tre Bowman for participating in a fight in Cedarbrook Apartments on Beaver Ave.
More recently, Drake was involved in an altercation with QB Matt McGloin during practice for the 2012 TicketCity.com Bowl, which resulted in a concussion for the QB, forcing McGloin out of action. Though no charges stemmed from this fight, and many details are still not confirmed, it certainly didn't look good from an outsider's vantage point.
With a new coaching staff, however, came an ostensibly clean slate. One of the first position changes under the new regime involved Drake, who switched from the offensive to the defensive side of the ball. Drake had been recruited as an "athlete", much like Chaz Powell before him, and, for all his faults, undeniably has the speed and athleticism to contribute as a cornerback as well as at wide receiver, running back, or anywhere else.
Drake spent all spring with the defensive backs, and showed incredible promise in practice. His significant playing time in the 2012 Blue/White game showed that Drake was on the verge of earning a spot on the starting lineup before his dismissal from the team, and his departure depletes an already scarce secondary.
As detailed before the spring scrimmage, cornerback was the deeper (albeit not by much) of the two defensive backfield positions. The switch of Drake to this position freed up the coaching staff to move sophomore Adrian Amos to safety, an act that seemed to pay off in the Blue/White game. With senior Stephon Morris, RS junior Derrick Thomas, and RS junior Mike Wallace still at the cornerback position, keeping Amos at safety may or may not be an option that and Ted Roof still look to.
Safety, however, is still a very major concern for Penn State going into the 2012 season. With Drake's removal, the staff may consider moving the speedy Amos back to the cornerback position, which would leave RS juniors Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis as the only scholarship players at the position currently with the team, though walk on Jacob Fagnano looks to see significant playing time.
One of the factors that may determine whether Amos stays at cornerback or safety may be the speed of the development of 2012 recruits DaQuan Davis, Jake Kiley, and Jordan Lucas. Davis and Kiley were both targeted as cornerbacks, but Kiley could make the move to safety alongside Lucas, who was recruited at that position. Also keep an eye on freshman Malik Golden, who was recruited to play wide receiver (and committed largely because Penn State offered that opportunity) has experience and athletic ability that might translate into solid defensive back play, even as a freshman.
In recent years, Penn State has not been known for its defensive backfield, and this upcoming season, on paper, looks to be worse than the near past. Drake's departure compounds that, and coaches and fans alike will be looking to see someone, anyone, rise up to fill the void created by his dismissal. Hopefully, too, any off field distractions will be limited with Drake's leaving, as O'Brien looks to put his foot down and make his mark on the team, discipline- and academic-wise.
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