Second(ary) to None

Second(ary) to None

Last week it was all about Cabinda, the senior linebacker. This week, as we take a final look at our position previews, it's déjà vu all over again. It’s not Jason Cabinda, but a senior warrior all the same. On October 21, 2016, he rose above the clouds and helped push Penn State over the hump as he knocked down the Buckeye field goal attempt and came back down to earth the initiator of a play that will forever be etched in our memories. Two months later, Marcus Allen helped slam the door shut with a fourth down stuff in Indy versus Wisconsin. In between, he punished some of the best offensive playmakers.

The highlights of hits have been a mainstay in his repertoire since he made his debut as a wide-eyed freshman in 2014 on that season’s biggest stage, the double-OT loss to eventual national champ, Ohio State. His smile and enthusiasm has been infectious, not just amongst his teammates but to all those that cheer for the Blue and White. In January of this year, not long after the Rose Bowl defeat to USC, Marcus Allen announced his intent to return for his senior year and Nittany Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the news!

Of course, the Penn State secondary is composed of many parts besides ol' #2. Fellow senior, Grant Haley, has made quite a few highlights of his own throughout the years. He will always be remembered for scooping up that Allen block and tumbling into the end zone 70+ yards later. He was also there with Allen on that fourth down stuff in Indy. Together, they’ve become a dynamic duo of their own, la Barkley and McSorley, on the defensive side of the ball; especially in 2016 as the Nittany Lions made their championship run. Having them both back is important, but head coach James Franklin has been busy from the moment he arrived building a unit that’s second(ary) to none.

Last we saw, they were on the losing end of a shootout with USC. It left a bad taste in their mouth, but wasn’t indicative of their play most of last year. Due to all the injuries with the linebackers, Allen had to step into the box and provide support up front far too often in 2016, something he shouldn’t have to do this year. The only missing stat on his long resume is the lack of an INT and he's hell-bent on changing that before he hangs up those black shoes. His partner in crime last year, Malik Golden, is busy making teams regret overlooking him in the draft by making preseason plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers and it’s a 3-man battle to find his replacement. Senior Troy Apke has the experience and has spent his entire four years at the position. Redshirt sophomore, Ayron Monroe, showed plenty of promise in April’s Blue-White game and converted running back/special team’s stalwart and team captain, Nick Scott, has the heart and athleticism to make the switch to safety pay dividends. Apke's experience should prove enough to give him the start, but all three will see time in the rotation. Garrett Taylor, John Petrishen, and true freshman Jonathan Sutherland present options as well if injuries take a toll.

At cornerback, Haley is the mainstay. On the other side, the Nittany Lions suffered a major blow this spring when John Reid suffered a season-ending knee injury. Senior Christian Campbell has been in the rotation since his freshman year and seems the likely replacement at season’s start. Amani Oruwariye spent plenty of time on the field in 2016 as did Desi Davis and redshirt freshman Zech McPhearson appears ready to throw his name in the hat. True freshman, Lamont Wade, has been on campus since January and has earned nothing but praise since his arrival. Likewise, his fellow classmate Tariq Castro-Fields, has been turning heads already and seems destined to play rather than redshirt.

It’s hard to truly gauge last years secondary because of all the injuries and inexperience in front of them. At times last year, Marcus Allen was more a fifth linebacker than safety. Because Penn State's up-tempo offense forces opponents into shoot-outs just to keep up, it takes a toll on our defensive backs. That said, with the exception of USC, very few were able to do much damage against them in 2016. The loss of John Reid hurts heading into this season, but the roster is stocked with speed and a hunger to prove that this unit is secondary to no one.