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2023 Spring Position Previews: Safeties

Secondary U?

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

BSD’s position-by-position previews continue with the safeties. While the Nittany Lions will be tasked with replacing Ji’Ayir Brown, its a unit that returns three players with starter-level snaps, while having a couple highly-touted prospects waiting in the wings.

Projected Starters

Keaton Ellis

As we talked about back in the winter, it seems likely that there’s going to be a four-man rotation at safety like we saw last year. Who the “starters” are only seems important in title only, but with Ellis being a fifth-year senior on a team that might lack some leadership, we can safely assume that Ellis will be tabbed as a starter. The State College native is coming off his best season as a Nittany Lion, finishing the 2022 year with 24 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 7 passes defended.

Jaylen Reed

At 6-foot-0, 208 pounds, Reed is one of the more physically imposing safeties not only at Penn State but in the conference as a whole. Over his two seasons in Happy Valley, he’s proven to be a strong tackler who does his best work when moving toward the line of scrimmage. Really, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Reed play a quasi-linebacker role in certain situations.

Likely Backups

Zakee Wheatley, Kevin Winston, Mehki Flowers

I talked about Kevin Winston last week in my “Player I’m Most Excited For This Spring” article, but the basis of my excitement: big, strong, and athletic. He’s going to have the opportunity to make a big impact on the backend of Penn State’s defense. Plus — and I didn’t mention this in my article last week — No. 21 is a sick number for a safety. Look good, feel good. Feel good, play good.

Speaking of impact, Zakee Wheatley had an impressive redshirt freshman season for the Nittany Lions, highlighting his big play potential with two interceptions and one forced fumble on the season. He continues to get bigger and stronger — now up to 194 pounds on his 6-foot-2 lanky frame — which should aid him rounding out his game.

While Ellis, Reed, Wheatley, and Winston are — rightly — getting much of the pub as far as the rotation goes, Mehki Flowers certainly deserves some recognition. He was a highly-touted prospect in his own right, and while he redshirted last season after only appearing in two games, it sounds like Flowers is beginning to push this offseason. He, like Wheatley, was a bit of a string bean when coming into college, so a year or two to get right physically was going to be needed.