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Spring Football Preview: Cornerbacks

On April 18, the Penn State football team will take the field for their annual Blue/White scrimmage. In the midst of spring practice, and headed into the spring game, we'll be taking a closer look at all of the position groups. Up next: Cornerbacks

Grant Haley displays some of the solid tackling that makes the sophomore CB duo so special.
Grant Haley displays some of the solid tackling that makes the sophomore CB duo so special.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

For years, it seemed that Penn State was stuck in a rut at the cornerback position. Occasionally, there would be a player to emerge as a consistent and reliable starter, such as Stephon Morris or D'Anton Lynn. For for the most part though, the Nittany Lion secondary went through each season with unreliable or unproven depth at the cornerback spot. Last year, that trend was broken.

After a sophomore season that had its rough moments, Jordan Lucas blossomed into a star on the Nittany Lion defense. Consistently locking down receivers all season long while providing strong run support to boot, gave Bob Shoop's defense an excellent cornerstone at one of its most important positions. On the other side of the field, Trevor Williams made major strides with his footwork and coverage skills, and emerged as someone who Shoop could be comfortable enough with to let him guard whoever showed up on his side. Then, there was the phenomenal freshman duo of Grant Haley and Christian Campbell, who burst onto the scene in 2014. All in all, Penn State experienced cornerback play unlike anything they have seen in recent years. The best part, though? It looks like it's only going to improve.

Key Departures: Jordan Lucas (kind of)

Lucas' departure isn't a departure in the traditional sense. Lucas is a senior, and will still be at Penn State for the 2015 season. He will be departing the cornerback role, though (if all goes as planned), in favor of a safety spot in Bob Shoop's defense. The coaching staff having the confidence to make this move speaks to both their faith in Lucas and his ability to make the transition, but also to their belief in what they have at the cornerback spot with their younger players.

Should the cornerbacks struggle in 2015 to the point that it's becoming a problem for the defense, it's likely that Lucas will move back to his old role to help solidify things on the outside.

Likely Starters: Trevor Williams, Grant Haley/Christian Campbell

Trevor Williams had a very rough start to his cornerback career at Penn State. While displaying solid ball skills, thanks to his experience as a wide receiver, he wasn't quite able to pick up the intricacies of playing the position right away. Now he finds himself as the de facto leader of the unit, and with good reason. While his play was overshadowed by that of Jordan Lucas last season, Williams made major strides as a cornerback. In fact, Williams may have been one of the most improved players on the entire team last season. Clearly the staff feels a level of confidence in him as well, as they will likely use him to match up with their opponents' number one receivers the majority of the time.

The other cornerback spot will be manned by some combination of true sophomores Grant Haley and Christian Campbell. Both saw good chunks of playing time as true freshmen last season, and both were very impressive. Haley profiles as more of a true corner in the future, and has been receiving the majority of the reps this offseason. Campbell, while appearing to have more of a safety profile, also provided the Lions with quality play last season. Campbell has been limited during spring practice due to injury, but is still very much in the staff's plans. One would assume that Campbell will get time at safety at some point in his Penn State career, but he could also signal the staff's attempt at getting in on the current trend of big, strong cornerbacks who can bully and physically dominate receivers (aka the Seattle Seahawk style). Both will see plenty of time on the outside opposite Williams, and there will likely be times when both are on the field. Things are looking very bright for both the present and the future of the cornerback position at Penn State.

Primary Backups: Daquan Worley, Jordan Smith, Da'Quan Davis

There are multiple options at the backup spots for cornerback (including whichever one of Haley/Campbell isn't in the game at the time), and all have potential. Worley is the name that Penn State fans who don't follow recruiting will be unfamiliar with now, but will probably be very used to by the season's end. Before tearing his ACL during his senior season, Worley was one of the most electrifying athletes in all of Pennsylvania. He was tearing the state apart both as a running back and a cornerback. After being a consistent stand out on last year's scout team, he comes into 2015 primed and ready to make an impact in the secondary.

Jordan Smith saw the field a good amount in 2014 on special teams, but was taken out of the lineup as the season went on. Look for Smith to take another step in his development in his junior season.

Da'Quan Davis struggled a bit in 2014, particularly in the UCF game where he found himself beaten a few separate times. He didn't log much game time after having his place on the depth chart stolen by Haley/Campbell, but has apparently played better this spring. Davis probably won't be the first name off the bench if the staff has it their way, but he will be counted on to be ready to step in at a moment's notice.

The Wild Card: John Reid

John Reid was one of the jewels of the 2015 recruiting class, and was the arguable top corner in Pennsylvania in the 2015 cycle. He comes to Penn State with an extremely advanced feel for the position. He has fantastic footwork, good speed and a true understanding of how to play the game. The only thing standing in his way of fighting for playing time right away is the new play book. The moment Reid has that down, he will begin to make his impact. The only question is when that moment will occur.