Editor’s Note: This is the 13th post in a series previewing Penn State football, part of Onward State and StateCollege.com’s countdown of insight and analysis about head coach James Franklin and his team heading into the Blue-White Game on April 12. Read the previous stories here.
With the Blue-White game coming up in just three short weeks, we are breaking down each position to see where the units stand going into the game. Here’s a look at the defensive back position, a unit that could use some improvement if the Nittany Lions want to become more competitive in the coming season.
Key losses: Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis both finished their senior campaigns.
Key returners: Adrian Amos, Jordan Lucas, Trevor Williams, Ryan Keiser, Jesse Della Valle, Da’Quan Davis and Devin Pryor will all return to the Nittany Lions for the 2014 season.
Incoming players: Three-star safety recruit Marcus Allen, three-star cornerback Grant Haley and three-star cornerback Amani Oruwariye will join the program, although none of them enrolled early.
Depth chart: James Franklin stated in his first spring press conference that Adrian Amos will be moved back to his “true position” at safety next season. He will likely be paired with Ryan Keiser in the secondary, although Jesse Della Valle likely hopes to upgrade from his usual role on special teams and earn a starting spot on defense. I wouldn’t bet on that happening, though.
At cornerback, Lucas is essentially a lock for one of the two spots. The other will likely go to Trevor Williams, but that isn’t a lock as Williams had a relatively poor season. A lack of improvement on Williams’ part in spring practice could force Franklin to reconsider, but the position is fairly thin and there aren’t a whole lot of options to turn to unless a true freshman steps up.
Player to watch: Jordan Lucas. This one’s a no-brainer, as Lucas really settled into his role and seemed to find an identity late in the season. After struggling early in 2013, the first season in which he saw major playing time, Lucas eventually began to cope with the pace, and his aptitude and skill as a defensive back really shone through. Lucas finished the season with three interceptions, making a number of big plays in the second half of the schedule, a stark opposition to his earlier form. Lucas can only go up from here and will likely be the most trustworthy cornerback on the roster next season, especially now that the brazen defensive back has found his confidence.
Prediction: In terms of the depth chart, you’ll likely see a very similar unit to last year on the field with the exception of Willis and Obeng-Agyapong. Amos is the most experienced player in the secondary, but Lucas is a natural leader and should be one of the better players on the Nittany Lions’ defense in 2014. I’d expect to see some shuffling around at the second cornerback and safety positions behind those two players before Franklin finds a unit that he’s comfortable with. Perhaps we’ll see an Obeng-Agyapong-esque position switch in which a versatile linebacker makes his way back into the secondary if the depth isn’t there.