Penn State will have to replace both starting safeties, that’s the bad news. The good news is that there are players poised to step in that could play at a very high level.
Marcus Allen brought more to the Penn State football team than can be described using statistics. His contribution for the past few seasons was as much about his leadership on and off the field as it was his play on Saturdays. Thankfully the team is not forced to get all that it did from Allen out of the player charged with replacing him; they only need a player that can play safety. Leaders will emerge, possibly from the returning group of safeties, but not necessarily.
Troy Apke surprised a lot of people with his athleticism and speed at the NFL combine. The nature of his responsibilities while he was at Penn State sometimes made it hard to see his skill during the game. He was often the player of last resort to make the tackle, a trait the safety can assume often, and therefore he was seen making a tackle for a solid gain much of the time. His counterpart, Allen, was given the freedom to play closer to the line of scrimmage and therefore assumed the role of a linebacker on many occasions. This led to the belief, until Apke’s senior season, that he was not as quick during the games as he could have been. Sometimes that was true, especially early in Apke’s career, but by midway through his senior season it was clear that Apke had become a very solid safety.
So where will the team turn to replace the two NFL-bound safeties?
Nick Scott, RS Senior- Scott began his playing career at Penn State as a running back, gaining 133 yards on 30 carries for one touchdown during his red-shirt freshman season. He played in all 13 games that year, seeing time mostly on special teams, where he became a noted performer, gaining five solo tackles. The next season Scott moved to safety where he saw limited playing time, but continued to do well playing special teams. Last year Scott added a start at safety to his work on special teams, and also saw his playing time on defense increase. He was often the third safety in the rotation, finishing with 33 total tackles, which was good for tenth-most on the team, third-most for returning players. Scott will be a team captain for the second-consecutive season and will be counted on heavily to replace some of the leadership that was lost to graduation.
Lamont Wade, Sophomore- Wade came to Penn State as one of the more heralded recruits in recent history. He was rated a five-star prospect by Rivals and Scout and the top Pennsylvania recruit of 2017 by Rivals. He played in 12 games and saw a great deal of time on defense as a true freshman. He had the fourth-most tackles last season for a returning player, tied with linebacker Cam Brown. There is reason to believe that Wade could develop into one of the best safeties that the program has had in recent memory. He has the tools to do it all; cover, tackle, and make timely plays.
Ayron Monroe, RS Junior- Monroe began to get attention in the Penn State world this time last year when he played a stellar Blue-White game. That led to Monroe playing in eleven games during the 2017 season. He finished with 18 total tackles, 8 solo, one pass defended, one broken up pass, and half a sack. The question with Monroe is a shoulder injury that required surgery following the Fiesta Bowl. Recovery from the injury has kept Monroe out all spring and it is uncertain how it will affect his availability in the fall. Should Monroe be ready by September, he will be in the mix to either be a starter or in the rotation at the very least.
Garrett Taylor, RS Junior- Taylor played in all 13 games last year, seeing mostly special teams activity. He had a fumble recovery, a pass defensed and one broken up in very limited play in a crowded safety rotation. Taylor should see an increased role this year. Depending whether Ayron Monroe is able to return and regain his previous form, Taylor could find his way into a role similar to what Scott and Monroe provided last season.
John Petrishen, RS Junior- As a red-shirt sophomore Petrishen played in three games and made three tackles, one for a loss. There wasn’t much playing time to be had for a player at his point in maturity last season, but he will be in the mix to fill the role that Monroe and Scott played last season; providing depth behind the starting rotation.
Jonathan Sutherland, RS Freshman- Sutherland took a red-shirt season last year but the Ottawa, Ontario safety should get a chance on special teams in 2018. He should factor into the team’s plans down the road.
It is always true that each player has to win his starting position. With two open starting positions to fill it seems likely that Nick Scott and Lamont Wade will open the season as the starters. Monroe, Taylor, and others may contend for a starting spot or may factor heavily into a rotation of players at the position.
Nick Scott has the experience and leadership qualities. Having the two-time captain on the field for the defense would go a long way to replacing the void left by Marcus Allen. Lamont Wade may have played cornerback last season, but he has more experience than the rest of the safeties combined other than Scott. It would not make sense to move a highly-touted cornerback that played a meaningful role as a freshman unless he was in line to play a larger role. That would mean it is hoped that Wade will earn the starting position and run with it.
While Taylor and Monroe have shown that they are solid players, they may have to wait another season before they get a shot to start.
While it hurts to lose a player such as Allen, there are traits that Lamont Wade brings to the table that Penn State has not had for a while at the safety spot. His range will be an added plus. He will be freed up to roam around a little bit more at safety than he would have been allowed at corner. During his high school career, Wade had 14 interceptions, including a pick-six in three consecutive playoff games on the way to the 2016 WPIAL Championship with Clairton High School. His move to safety could prove to be a huge boost to Brent Pry’s defense.