At Corner, Penn State is once again led by the final link between the JoePa era and the FrankLion tenure. Terry Smith is a Letterman (Class of ’91) who still ranks among the leaders in career receptions with 108, and is also the stepdad of former defensive back Justin King, who along with Derrick Williams is widely credited with helping re-establish the Nittany Lions as a powerhouse when they both committed in 2005. The ties are strong and in just under three years as coach of the cornerbacks, Smith has established himself as the unquestioned leader of what they have dubbed themselves “The Committee” heading into the 2016 season. On the field, two-year starter Grant Haley is firmly entrenched on one side heading into his junior year and up-and-comer John Reid will man the other as a true sophomore who worked his way into a starting role in 2015. Joining them in the rotation, and looked at as the third corner is junior Christian Campbell. Names to keep in mind are redshirt freshmen Garrett Taylor and Amani Oruwariye who have both made a case for themselves this offseason.
As for the safety position, I begin with a warning to the opposition: Stay away from Marcus Allen. After a somewhat disappointing sophomore campaign due to a lingering shoulder injury, the hard-hitting Allen is on a mission to reestablish himself as one of the Big Ten Conference’s most feared in the defensive backfield. Known for his jarring hits on opposing running backs as much as he is for his blanket coverage in the passing game, if Allen can stay healthy, expect him to have a major impact. With the graduation of Jordan Lucas, senior Malik Golden is prepared to step in and fill his shoes beside Allen. One of only six remaining players who committed to Joe Paterno, Golden, a former wide-out, has the athleticism and experience to compliment Allen at free safety. Troy Apke, another converted wide-out, saw plenty of action in 2015 as a freshmen and looks to continue his progression, as does the speedy Koa Farmer who made the switch back to safety after giving a shot at linebacker last season. Nick Scott moves out of the crowded backfield on offense and has made a seamless transition to defense. Nipping at their heels is a trio of redshirt freshmen. Ayron Monroe, Jarvis Miller, and John Petrishan provide new safeties coach, Tim Banks, who replaced the departed Bob Shoop, with a multitude of first-rate options full of talent.
Penn State has never been known for churning out NFL-caliber defensive backs. Of course, there have been some scattered over the years with Lucas and Adrian Amos being the most recent. Names like David Maklin and Bryon Scott carved a niche for themselves early in the millennium and Darren Perry logged nine years as a player and has been a coach on the rise in the NFL since 2002. Besides those and a handful of others, the pickings are slim. The most obvious reason is because of the perennial dominance of the front seven. With a defensive line and linebackers as good as we’ve had over the years, the need for elite DB’s has never been a top priority. Whether it was by design or just a need to rebuild depth, the arrival of James Franklin and Terry Smith in 2014 marked a change in that perception. They immediately went after speed, athleticism and depth. Three years later, the last line of defense is locked, stocked, and ready to rumble.
And with that, my friends and fellow Nittany Lions, the 2016 edition of the position preview comes to a close. All that’s left now is to batten down the hatches and winterize those summer escapes. Dust off the RV's and dig out the trusty old tailgate gear. Fall is at our doorstep, and when fall comes knocking, all roads lead to Happy Valley!