Tim Banks is back for his second season manning Penn State’s safety unit, and he’ll be tasked with finding a replacement for redshirt senior Malik Golden. Luckily, he doesn’t have to replace two starters as Marcus Allen is back for his senior season, and heads into 2017 as one of the top safeties in all of college football.
At free safety, the Nittany Lions return 3.5 year starter Marcus Allen who opted against the NFL Draft for one final season in the Blue & White. Penn State fans should be familiar with what Allen brings to the table — a safety that does his best work when attacking the line of scrimmage. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Allen is a massive defensive back that essentially plays the role of the third linebacker when the Nittany Lions switch into their nickel defense. Very few — if any — players on Penn State’s roster can play the role Allen plays, which was why getting him back for his senior season was a big boost for Brent Pry’s side of the ball.
That being said, Allen does have some room for improvement. He’s still a mixed bag when dropping back into coverage, as evidenced by having not yet picking off a pass during his time in Happy Valley. For a defense that’s losing some key contributors — Brandon Bell, Garrett Sickels, and now John Reid — Allen will be called upon to be the playmaker of not just the secondary, but the entire defense. Creating more turnovers will be a big part of that.
Who will line up next to Allen and replace the departing Malik Golden remains a mystery, but it’s a legitimate three-man battle.
Troy Apke: Believe it or not, he’s the fastest of the group, clocking a sub-4.4 during Winter ‘16. Apke also brings the most experience out of the trio, having seen his fair share of time as a backup the previous three seasons, but mental lapses have prevented him from taking that next step. Now, it’s a matter of if things will finally click. Similar concerns were raised about Golden heading into 2016, which ended up being quelled as No. 6 had a strong season.
Nick Scott: Special teams star and captain, Scott also figures to have a decent shot at being the strong safety in 2017. If you wanted to draw up a safety, Scott might be the end product — 5-foot-11, a solid 200 pounds, long arms, and a very good athlete. This is his first full spring at the position, so things might still be a little green, but Scott has the makings of a real force in the secondary.
Ayron Monroe: The redshirt sophomore has been pushing for playing time since he stepped on campus, but nagging injuries have prevented him from making a serious push for a starting spot. Now that he’s finally healthy, it’s no surprise that Monroe is sticking with Apke and Scott.
Ideally, those top four guys will see the majority of the workload this fall, as Penn State doesn’t have a lot of depth on the backend. Redshirt sophomore Garrett Taylor made the move from cornerback to safety, and should be there longterm. He might need another year to add a bit more mass to his frame, but the former four-star prospect doesn’t lack talent.
There’s also redshirt sophomore John Petrishen who is battling back from a couple injuries, most notably a foot ailment that kept him out all of last year. Obviously, this is a big offseason for him to not only produce, but to also stay healthy.