Let me preface this by saying that the Penn State defense would take a massive hit should any of the three players profiled this week miss significant time at any point this season. Mike Hull is the heart and soul of the linebackers. Adrian Amos is the jack of all trades who can change the game in an instant. But as important as both of these guys can be when they are playing up to their potential, neither of them are as valuable to Bob Shoop's defense as Jordan Lucas.
Jordan Lucas came into this past season as a starting cornerback opposite of Trevor Williams. The two followed very different paths as the season went on. It was Williams who first showed up in a big spot, grabbing the game-sealing interception in Metlife Stadium against Syracuse. After he seemingly was always in the right spot on many key third down plays as a receiver the year before, the idea of him using that athleticism and football IQ on the opposite side of the ball surely excited fans. However, Williams gradually declined as the year progressed on, eventually forcing the team to move Amos back to corner. Jordan Lucas though, was not only able to secure his spot guarding the Big Ten's best receivers, but was able to continue to develop while doing so. His spot on the depth chart was never up for grabs, and allowed for the coaching staff to worry about other spots on the field. Therein lies the essence of what makes Jordan Lucas so valuable to this team and this defense.
Having a shutdown corner is certainly important in today's brand of football. Even in the Big Ten, if you can't defend the pass, you won't win enough football games to be competitive. Having a player on your defense who can effectively cancel out the number one option for an opposing quarterback is a true weapon at defensive coordinators' disposals. However, that shutdown corner supplies a defense with more than just a cancelled out receiver. Being armed with the knowledge that you can trust your guy to go out and do his job on every play, allows coaches to get more creative with personnel and play packages. To translate this into very simple Penn State terms, having Jordan Lucas allows the staff to let Adrian Amos be free.
As a teacher, during social studies I teach my students about the ideas of "wants" and "needs" when talking about various events in history. "Wants" obviously being the things that we would like to have, and "needs" being the things we can't survive without. Adrian Amos is the perfect example of a "want". He can play safety. He can play corner. He can blitz. He can run. He can do it all, and from basically any position. He is a swiss army knife that the staff can ask to do 1,000 different things in one game. None of that is possible though, without the presence of the "need" in the defense, which is Lucas. The past few seasons we've seen the coaches strain to get Amos into the safety spot, only to be forced to put him back to the cornerback role due to lack of talent outside the numbers. This year though, will be a different story. While Penn State may still be searching for the answer at the other cornerback spot, be it Trevor Williams, Da'Quan Davis, Jordan Smith, or one of the 2014 recruits (Grant Haley, Daquan Worley, Amani Oruwariye), the number one spot on the depth chart is not up for grabs. Finding that other guy is certainly important, but the simple fact that one corner is already locked up will allow for the staff to begin scheming for all the fun ways they can use Adrian Amos to harass an offense.
Jordan Lucas holds value for this defense both for what he brings with his individual skill set, and for what he represents in relation to the rest of the defense. Mike Hull and Adrian Amos may be more athletic and more technically skilled, but that is not the argument. Without Hull, Brandon Bell steps into the middle of the defense and Gary Wooten or a 2014 recruit steps up on the outside. It's a downgrade, for sure. But is it really all that different from a linebacking corps that included an injured Mike Hull for nearly all of last season in the first place? Without Amos, Shoop no longer has his cheat code of a chess piece. Having Amos allows for many creative personnel schemes and exotic looking blitzes and play packages, but to say he is absolutely essential for the defense may be going a little too far. Without Jordan Lucas though, what do you have? Not only do you immediately have to shift Amos back over yet again, but you need to once again dig into the less-than-ideal depth that Penn State currently possesses at defensive back. The level in play between Lucas and other options is quite noticeable, and would lead to some huge days through the air from opposing teams.
In the end, all three are fantastic players. But only one of them is what I would call truly irreplaceable.