The last line of defense. If all else fails, it's up to them. On the outside, they've been known to live on an island. In the middle, they're called navigators. Sometimes, hitmen. They flow to the ball. On occasion, they sneak up and lay the wood on an unsuspecting quarterback. When it works, it's a thing of beauty. Of course, I'm talking Defensive Backs here. And if you can't tell already, you're in store for another positive spin.
YO, ADRIAN (and RYAN)...THANK YOU
True to form throughout this series, I cannot look ahead without taking a brief look back. I remember, vividly, when all was normal in Happy Valley back in 2011. Although he wasn't roaming the sidelines, at least JoePa was there. His presence, even in the pressbox, was better than nothing. Despite the loss to Alabama, the Penn State defense was playing with its usual swagger. A few games in and we started to take notice of a true freshman by way of Baltimore. His name was Adrian Amos. Of course, all hell broke loose that November. Through it all, Adrian remained a fixture on our defense for four years. As of this writing, Amos, a third-round pick of the Chicago Bears, is already penciled in as an opening day starter.
I would be remiss if my farewell did not include the likes of Ryan Keiser. Although his senior year was cut short by a freak injury two days before the Ohio State game, Ryan is nonetheless a huge part of what got our defense off to such a great start in 2014. We wish them both the best of luck in their future endeavors!
A NEW ERA
Despite the loss of both starting safeties from last season’s opening game, the Nittany Lion defensive backfield is already one to be reckoned with. Marcus Allen filled in for Keiser at one safety spot and never looked back. His play, throughout the course of 2014, improved with every game, as did the young man's confidence. Known already as an elite run-stopper, Allen has the size and speed to make a serious run at being one of the most ferocious to ever play safety for Penn State. Strong words, I know, but the kid is that good.
Senior Jordan Lucas takes over for the departed Amos, opposite Allen at the other Safety position. Although known throughout the Big Ten as one of the conference’s best shut-down corners over the past three years, Lucas is now free to roam the backfield and wreak havoc with his partner in crime. Much like Amos in 2014, expect Lucas to make the switch with natural ease. He is, without question, one of the leaders on this year’s squad. Joining them and filling in will be senior Malik Golden and sophomore Troy Apke. A name to keep an eye on as well is redshirt sophomore Koa Farmer. Farmer began camp with the linebackers but was just recently moved over to safety.
At cornerback, senior Trevor Williams has one side locked down. Opposite Williams is a reported three-way battle between sophomores Grant Haley, Christian Campbell and true freshman John Reid. Consider Amani Oruwaryie and Daquan Worley in the mix as well. Haley and Campbell both spent plenty of time on the field last season and look to continue their growth at the position. Reid has come into camp and reportedly hit the ground running. He's known as a football junkie who is always looking for an edge, be it in the weight room, watching film, or in practice.
THE NO FLY ZONE
Perhaps more so than any position, the defensive backfield has undergone a major renovation since James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley. From the very outset of his arrival, we have seen a plethora of speed and length added to our defensive backs. Coordinator Bob Shoop, who oversees the safeties and Cornerbacks coach, Terry Smith, have instilled a mentality within these kids that they will not be beat.
The duo of Jordan Lucas and Marcus Allen will prove to be as lethal a combination at safety as any in the country. Mix those two in with the speed and playmaking potential at the cornerback position, and this unit could very well represent the most exciting unit on the field. So go ahead, try and pass on this crew. I dare you. But if you do, be advised, you enter the Penn State version of the "No Fly Zone"!