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Penn State 2012 Position Previews: Defensive Backs

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Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis are poised and ready for the 2012 season.
Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis are poised and ready for the 2012 season.

We haven’t moved anyone to the secondary. I have been very pleased with the secondary; I’ve been pleased with the defense as a whole. The secondary has a number of good returning players. Also some younger players in there that we think could really help us like a Da’Quan Davis or Jordan Lucas. In addition to the obviously "steady Eddies" back there – Stephon Morris, Malcolm Willis, Adrian Amos-he’s had an excellent camp. So I’m pretty happy with where those guys are at.

Coach Bill O'Brien in his weekly teleconference, 8/16/2012.

Ahh, defensive backs. In the spring, pre-sanctions and roster depletions, the secondary was the one questionable facet of an otherwise talent-rich and potentially dominating defense. It was also, arguably, the one area of the field that could least afford to see players get injured or dismissed.

Of course, this meant that Curtis Drake, Derrick Thomas, and Mike Wallace would be dismissed, leave the team for personal reasons, and have a career ending injury, respectively, leaving a thin position group even thinner--and this doesn't even take Tim Buckley, a former walk on who shot out of nowhere to be second on the post-spring depth chart before departing post-sanctions for NC State. The departures of these players means that only one member of the secondary will be a senior in 2012, meaning that 2013 looks to be a marked step up in experience and depth--provided, of course, that the majority of the 2012 squad elects to stay with Penn State for the next season.

The biggest question for the overall defense is, can the talent and ferocity of the front seven make up for the inexperience and lack of depth in the back four? Only time, and performance eight days from now, will tell.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bane of my preseason existence and the stars of my current nightmares...the secondary.

More 2012 Position Previews…
Running Backs (Cari) - 8.13.12
Linebackers (Mike) - 8.14.12
Defensive Tackles (Jared) - 8.15.12
Special Teams (Tim) - 8.16.12
Offensive Line (bscaff) - 8.17.12
Tight Ends (Devon) - 8.20.12
Defensive Ends (Jared) - 8.21.12
Wide Receivers (Dan) - 8.22.12
Quarterbacks (Jeff) - 8.23.12
Defensive Backs (Cari) - 8.24.12


The Starters

Stephon Morris, RS JR (12) The most experienced returner in the secondary, look to Morris to provide on-field leadership and consistency for the entire corps. He started in two games last season, seeing time in twelve, and notched 19 tackles (12 solo), including one tackle for loss. Due to injuries, Morris saw more time in 2010, starting 10 games in place of the injured D'Anton Lynn, and recorded 39 tackles (29 solo) in his redshirt freshman season.

Adrian Amos, SO (4) Amos was arguably the biggest surprise on the field in 2011, proving too talented for the previous staff to keep off the field. He saw time in every game, making one start versus Iowa, and tallied 13 tackles for the season. He had four passes broken up and five defended, and managed one interception in his first collegiate game, versus Indiana State. He saw some time at Safety in the spring, but the coaching staff ultimately decided that his talent was better suited to the cornerback position and, now that Thomas has left the program, the second spot at this position will be indisputably his.

The Backups

Jesse Della Valle, RS SO (39) Della Valle impressed in the 2012 Blue-White game, returning an interception for 35 yards; he saw significant time this off season with both the first- and second-team defenses. Della Valle made the Dean's List in the spring semester (CULTURE!), and was a basketball as well as football star for Shaler Area High School.

Devin Pryor, RS SO (16) Pryor came out of nowhere to log significant time, as well as an interception, in the 2012 Blue-White game, after redshirting the 2011 season.

The Wildcards

Da'Quan Davis, FR (3) One of two true freshman members of the secondary to be name-checked by Coach O'Brien multiple times so far, Davis could see playing time right away under Ted Roof's more aggressive defense. Davis, along with fellow true freshman Trevor Williams, was originally a West Virginia commit before switching to Penn State in January. Davis, Williams, and Amos were all high school teammates at Calvert Hall College just outside Baltimore.

Jake Kiley, FR (2) Of the three true freshman defensive backs who entered preseason camp, Kiley seems the most likely to redshirt--if the coaching staff can get away with redshirting someone in this thin area of the depth chart. He was unrated by all services when he committed last summer, but stuck by the program through all the offseason drama, including the departure of a few of his fellow Penn State New Englanders.


The Starters

Malcolm Willis, RS JR (10) Willis turned heads his redshirt freshman season, when he was looked to to start in the place of injured Safety Nick Sukay in the free safety position for the second half of the season. He started six games in 2010, notching 54 tackles (29 solo), with one interception and three passes broken up. By some accounts, he seemed to digress in his second season at Penn State, only recording 33 tackles (22 solo) in 2011 in more limited relief time. He did, however, add to his stats last year a fumble recovery, a blocked kick, and a second career interception, against Iowa.

Jacob Fagnano, RS SR (27) Fagnano came out of practically nowhere to jump Obeng-Agyapong for the strong safety position on the post-spring depth chart released by the program on June 5. He saw time in every single game in his sophomore and junior seasons, logging eight and six tackles in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, respectively.

The Backup

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, RS JR (7) Per the head coach:

Stephen Obeng’s had a really good camp. I should always mention him with the secondary. He’ll play in the secondary and he’ll be a major factor on special teams. He’s a core special teams guy. He’s a great team player and I’m happy with where he’s at. He’s gotten a lot better since the spring. Adrian Amos is a guy that we move all around. He’s a guy that can do a lot of different things. We’re happy to have him on the team; he’s one of our better players.

Since O'Brien's solidly in his corner, look for Obeng-Agyapong to challenge for starting time this year and, provided Adam Shell's somewhere nearby, maybe even crack a smile once or twice. O-A played in every game his freshman and sophomore seasons, being the primary backup to Drew Astorino in the strong safety position last year. He logged nine tackles in 2010 and eleven in 2011, including seven solo tackles last year.

The Wildcard

Jordan Lucas, FR (1) Lucas is the second true freshman to be continually name-checked by BOB, so look for him to contribute right away. A consensus 3 star recruit, Lucas was the first player to commit to O'Brien's Nittany Lions after spending a year at a post-graduate academy. He has the speed and skill to be a factor in the backfield from day one.

* * * * *

"Many people say we are the weak links on defense. I'm kind of glad they are saying that because we are just going to keep working harder and harder. It's motivation, that's all."--Stephon Morris, after the 2012 Blue-White game.

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