Penn State heads into the 2019 season with a pair of question marks at the safety position following the graduation of Nick Scott and transfers from Isaiah Humphries and Ayron Monroe.
Those moves leave the Nittany Lions with just five scholarship safeties for the spring. Garrett Taylor, the starter opposite Scott in 2018, returns and is expected to hold onto that spot.
The other four safeties are the sparingly used John Petrishen, true freshman Tyler Rudolph, Jonathan Sutherland who saw time in all 13 games last year including one start in place of a suspended Taylor and Lamont Wade, who opted not to transfer after testing the waters in the transfer portal.
Junior college transfer Jaquan Brisker will join the group in the summer, as could true freshman Joey Porter Jr., but for the purpose of this exercise we’ll pretend those two are nonentities.
Taylor impressed everyone last year with his progression as he saw more and more time on the field. After moving over from cornerback, he showed a knack for finding the ball and seemed to take good angles when defending the run game.
James Franklin praised his work in the offseason and said that Taylor “looked like a vet” in a spring practice.
Barring injury, the redshirt senior from Virginia should be nailed on as one of the two starters at the position come Fall.
Who starts opposite Taylor is another discussion.
The three leaders in the clubhouse for that spot are Sutherland, Wade and Brisker.
Sutherland is a heavy hitter who plays downhill similar to what Penn State fans are accustom to seeing from now Pittsburgh Steeler Marcus Allen. He’s now in his third year with the program and will have a chance to step into his biggest role yet in 2019.
He’ll be challenged by Wade, who is a true junior and was Penn State’s prized prospect in 2017. The Clairton, Pennsylvania native is a ball hawk who’s not afraid to lower the boom either, but seemed to struggle when tasked with the move from from corner to safety last year. On raw talent alone, Wade is as good as anyone out there, if he start to play more instinctively he could turn into a major asset for safeties coach Tim Banks.
Both Wade and Sutherland have a leg up on JuCo signee Jaquan Brisker who won’t be on campus for Blue-White. Brisker, a first-team All-American last year for Lackawanna College, is like a bullet to the ball and is very aggressive in both the run game and coming off the edge as a blitzer. The question for him remains how he’ll adjust to the speed jump from JuCo to major Division I ball. There’s a solid chance he may not start off the bat but is used in obvious blitzing or run situations.
The Other Guys
Rudolph is a highly touted prospect who is expected to be the safety of the future for the Nittany Lions. It’s good that he was able to enroll early, but he’ll have his work cut out for him to see the field often unless it’s on special teams.
Petrishen will likely see a lot of time on special teams and maybe some at safety in the spring game, but I wouldn’t consider him as a defensive factor heading into next season.
Walk-ons Justin Neff and Drew Hartlaub could see the field late in the game.