1) Another Year Older, Another Year Wiser
DaQuan Jones, Glenn Carson, Malcolm Willis, and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong are gone. And that's pretty much it. Jones was a beast last year, there's no way around that. Carson was solid as always, and Willis and Obeng-Agyapong flashed every now and then. Overall though, this group is not losing very much on the defensive side of the ball. It is however, gaining experience.
Everyone who is slated to start this season saw significant time as either a starter or a rotational player. Most are upper classmen who know the game by this point and are simply trying to refine what they already do well at this point, but some are younger and less traveled players, who surely benefitted from a season's worth of experience and an offseason full of training to be starters. Guys like Adrian Amos, Mike Hull, and Deion Barnes are very talented players who everyone knows about. For them it's a matter of staying healthy and consistent. But for guys like Brandon Bell, Trevor Williams, Austin Johnson, and Jordan Lucas, they are still (hopefully) just starting to scratch the surface of what they can become. The experience they gained during the past season will serve them well as they continue to establish themselves on the Nittany Lion defense.
2) Speaking of Jordan Lucas...
I wrote about Jordan Lucas a while back because I feel that he is the most irreplaceable player on Penn State's defense. Not only do I believe this (I didn't just get roped into writing that article like I did the one about Mike Munchak as the next head coach), but I think he has the potential to be one of the best players on the defensive side of the ball. I'm not going to do something crazy and say that Lucas is a shutdown corner. Not yet, anyway. He did however, improve by leaps and bounds this past season. That much should be clear to anyone who watched from Syracuse to Wisconsin.
Should Lucas continue to improve not only as a player but as a leader, this defense will be miles ahead of where it was last year. If Shoop can confidently allow Lucas to be on an island with his man, it will do wonders for the defense. It will allow guys like Amos and Koa Farmer to wreck havoc with their versatility. It will allow for consistent blitzing. It will allow for the safeties to give more help to Trevor Williams or whoever else ends up on the other side.
All reports say that Lucas developed as a player and a leader during spring practice. With all of the recruits in the secondary that are coming in, he will surely continue to grow into the mentor role and pair with Amos to be a leader in the secondary. I would take what Lucas had become by the end of the year as a number one corner for this team in a heartbeat. But to have an improved version of that? Sign me up.
3) "There is no planet, sun, or star could hold you if you but knew what you are." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote from Emerson is about potential. There is no better form of optimism in football that the type that allows you to believe your team will finally realize its full potential. And let me tell you, if this defense realizes its potential, the Big Ten better watch out.
In this day and age when people like me are around on the internet to constantly tell you how amazing the next group of guys coming are going to be, it's easy to start accepting it as folly or ignoring it altogether. Even a pessimist on the level of Devon or bscaff would have to admit that this defense has the potential to be dominant.
First there are the visions of Deion Barnes using his physical tools to compliment the powerful CJ Olaniyan, while Austin Johnson begins growing into the next great Penn State defensive tackle next to Anthony Zettel tooling with offensive linemen in his last hurrah. Then there's Mike Hull staying healthy for a full season and becoming the kind of wall in the middle of the field that will have Penn Staters thinking of Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. There's Nyeem Wartman finally fully grasping the schemes and flourishing opposite from Brandon Bell who continues to pick up the plays uncharacteristically quickly. You have Jordan Lucas selling each receiver he faces a timeshare on Lucas Island. You have Adrian Amos blitzing from a linebacker spot, intercepting from a safety spot, tackling from a star role, and everything in between. Finally, Troy Reeder, Marcus Allen, Daquan Worley, Antoine White, and Koa Farmer all come in and show why they were highly touted coming out of high school. You can get down off of your table and stop cheering now, I'm done.
It's easy to see what can go right with this defense. Sure it might take a few lucky breaks here and there for everything to fall into place perfectly, but every great team has things go their way now and then. It's fun to be optimistic. And there's a lot to be optimistic about. This defense has greatness within their grasp. Let's just sit back and watch them achieve it.