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BSD Blue-White Position Preview: Cornerback

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Even though Grant Haley and Christian Campbell are gone, the Nittany Lions return a plethora of options at cornerback in 2018.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

College football is back, folks. If it wasn’t definitely back, why would I have written words (see said “words” below) about Penn State’s cornerbacks?

The Starters

With the Nittany Lions expected to play a lot of 4-2-5, you’ll most likely see a three-man platoon of “starters” for Penn State. John Reid (RS JR) is back after missing all of last season with torn ACL. He’s been full-go in spring practice with no complications (insert handing praying emoji here), and should re-assume his role as Penn State’s number one cornerback. Like he did in 2016, Reid (who, by the way, built a computer) will also kick inside to play the slot corner position, something he flourished at during his first two seasons with the Nittany Lions.

Maybe everyone else forgets just how good of a player Reid is, but I don’t — he’s legitimately one of the best 10 cornerbacks in the country. You’d like to see him pick off a few more passes, but he’s so discipline and always in position that he really doesn’t get tested. He’ll have a First Team All-Big Ten year.

Beyond Reid, Amani Oruwariye (RS SR) and Tariq Castro-Fields (SO) will see starter’s snaps. Oruwariye led Penn State in interceptions last season, totaling four on the year, and will hope to duplicate that number again. At 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, Oruwariye is the biggest of the Penn State cornerback, and though he’s susceptible to getting beat deep, he’s a tough break off the line of scrimmage.

Castro-Fields was the star of fall camp last season, pushing his way onto the field as a true freshman despite not enrolling early. The sky is the limit for the 6-foot Castro-Fields, who has the speed to match his length. Now that he’ll have a full offseason within Penn State’s program, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Castro-Fields took his game to an All-Big Ten level. He’s that talented.

Depth, Depth, Depth

Penn State had (mostly) a four-man rotation last season so the battle for the fourth spot is something to keep an eye on. Right now, it seems like Zech McPhearson (RS SO) is the leader in the clubhouse to assume that role. McPhearson played mostly special teams last season, though he did see some run at cornerback here-and-there. He’s a good athlete with solid length (5-foot-11), but could stand to get a little stronger because of his wiry frame.

Walk-on Jabari Butler (RS JR) is a name most probably don’t know. Butler started his college career at FCS Abilene Christian, where he was a standout as a freshman, picking off six passes. He decided to move up a level after his sophomore season, and because of NCAA rules, had to redshirt last season. Now that he’s eligible, Butler is someone who could push for playing time. He has solid size at 5-foot-11, 182 pounds, and is a terrific athlete too.

Donovan Johnson (RS FR) and DJ Brown (RS FR) are coming off redshirt seasons, and should find themselves in the mix. Johnson, especially, could be a fixture on special teams. Although he’s only 5-foot-9, he’s incredibly fast, and could be a real asset as a gunner even if he doesn’t crack the depth chart at cornerback.

Also, true freshman Trent Gordon will be making his Beaver Stadium debut this Saturday. With everything in front of him, it’s likely that he’ll redshirt, but he’s received quite a bit of praise during his first couple months on campus.

Outlook

Credit to cornerbacks coach Terry Smith here, because I think outside of defensive end, this is the unit defensively that Penn State should feel best about. Reid, Castro-Fields, and Oruwariye gives you a trio that might just be the best in the Big Ten, and it’s a group that has a little bit of everything — i.e. size, length, speed, quickness, other very important football lingo, etc. As long as someone (most likely McPhearson) takes stronghold of the fourth cornerback spot, this is going to be a championship caliber unit.