New Hampshire DB Jake Kiley Commits to Penn State
July 26, 2011 – | No Comment

States like New Hampshire are often overlooked by college recruiters scouring the northeast. With a population of a little over 1.3 million (barely 14.5% of the population of New York City), the talent pool in …

Read the full story »

Spring Position Profile: Defensive Backs

Submitted by on April 13, 2011No Comment

With under one week left until the Blue/White Game, quebecpenspinning is getting back in the football mood. It’s been a long offseason–and the scrimmage is really just a tease–but after what has felt like an interminably long offseason, that Blue/White Game is sorely needed.

And with that in mind, we’ll be profiling the team heading into the game, breaking down the roster, highlighting position battles, and looking at key players to watch. We continue with a look at Penn State’s defensive backs.

Last year’s leaders: D’Anton Lynn: 75 tackles, 3 interceptions, 7 passes defensed; Drew Astorino: 70 tackles, 1 INT, 6 PD; Malcolm Willis: 51 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PD; Nick Sukay: 29 tackles, 3 INT, 3 PD; Stephon Morris: 39 tackles, 1 PD, Chaz Powell: 11 tackles, 5 PD

Moving On: Andrew Dailey

Entering the fold: Derrick Thomas, Alex Kenney

Penn State isn’t a school like, say, Virginia Tech, that’s known for having a good secondary. Hell, the defensive scheme run by Tom Bradley almost prohibits it. It’s the old schoolest of old school, a straight Cover-3, out of a formation that resembles a 4-4, and that rarely sends more than the front 4 after the quarterback. It’s a defense designed to make a quarterback beat you with difficult throws, not to create chaos, or rack up the turnovers. And so the fates of each layer of the defense is so entwined with those groups playing in front of them.

Image credit: PennLive
That is to say, when the Penn State defensive line can bring pressure, the secondary will reap the benefits. Quarterbacks throwing in a hurry can’t make the multiple reads necessary to beat this defense, or check down in time, and more often than not, Larry Johnson’s defensive lines have done exactly that, whether it’s a team effort or one dominant player on that unit.

But last year, that wasn’t the case. A defensive line that was decimated by injuries never really got going–Penn State only finished with 17 sacks in 2010, down from 37 in 2009. And injuries and ineffectiveness in the secondary prevented the unit from ever really finding a groove, despite the breakout season from D’Anton Lynn. Lynn emerged as one of the Big Ten’s best corners, and, eschewing the “left cornerback, right cornerback” philosophy, typically drew matchups against opposing team’s top wideouts. His lack of top-flight speed might prevent him from playing CB in the pros, but he’s got more than enough athletic ability to hold down the position in college. He’s Darrelle Revis-like in his ability to help in the run game, and is quickly approaching Alan Zemaitis-status for his ability to shut down one side of the field. He’s a good one.

The other corner spot will be up for grabs, though, and it will be interesting to see how the reps are split up. Stephon Morris played very well as a nickel in 2009, but he struggled mightily after being inserted into the starting lineup. After a miserable performance against Minnesota, when he was burned for 3 touchdowns, he lost his grip on the spot, sharing the position with Chaz Powell for the rest of the year. Powell played a solid CB–especially for a guy who was a wide receiver a few weeks earlier–and while Morris is the better athlete, he’s also minuscule.

Honestly, I think the second-best corner on the team is Derrick Thomas, who’s been in Joe’s doghouse since last September. He played very well in limited duty against the likes of Youngstown State and Kent State–even making an impressive interception in the Temple game–but never saw the field again after the end of the out-of-conference schedule. Some suggested drug issues, or grades, Joe cited both the latter and “lifestyle” concerns, and it surely won’t help that he received a citation for fighting over State Patty’s Weekend. But if this can be a meritocracy, he should get a shot.

At safety, the situation is slightly more settled. Drew Astorino has been extremely mediocre for the past two years, starting at “hero,” and it’s hard to knock a kid who’s battled through injuries his entire career, after a successful, injury-free, freshman campaign. But he’s still only an okay tackler, undersized, not particularly fleet of foot, and saw some bench time back when Penn State had other players who could replace him. He will start again as a 5th year senior, that much is settled, but he’s going to need to step it up big time if Penn State can have success.

Nick Sukay has been another one of those guys who simply can’t stay healthy–he broke his foot in 2008 and missed the season, and last year tore a pectoral in the Illinois game that sidelined him the rest of the year. When healthy, he’s been pretty good, playing a solid center field for the Nittany Lions. When he was fully healthy, in 2009, he broke up 11 passes–good for 2nd in the Big Ten–and had 3 interceptions in his last 3 games before the injury last season. He’ll start, and should be fine in 2011. Malcolm Willis often impressed in his stead last year, and made a bid for the nickel position with sure tackling, but the experience ahead of him will probably keep Willis on the bench.

Verdict: Penn State’s defensive backfield is difficult to analyze as a stand-alone unit, because they really aren’t, but you can take a look at certain players in a vacuum. My honest opinion is that, barring injuries, this unit has the talent to succeed even if the defensive line is merely mediocre, and that’s mainly based on D’Anton Lynn. There aren’t many shutdown corners these days, but he could be one. I’m confident that someone will hold down the #2 corner spot, whether it’s Thomas, Powell, or Morris–or even freshman speedster Alex Kenney. I’m not his biggest fan, but I’ll hold out hope that a healthy Astorino is better than a nicked-up one. But most importantly, especially for a team that goes nickel half the time, there’s plenty of depth here, something that was lacking last year, especially after both Sukay and his replacement, Andrew Dailey, went down with injuries.

top related stories
you may also like