John Reid’s loss is a major blow, but thankfully cornerback is one of the deepest positions on Penn State’s defense.
News broke Thursday that the rising junior suffered a serious knee injury during spring practice and could be sidelined for the 2017 season. Reid gained respect for his work ethic in the film room even before he arrived on campus. Since then, he’s started 17 games for the Nittany Lions, including each contest last fall. Reid has a redshirt to use if he’s unable to return before the end of this season, but there’s no doubt youngsters will need to step up regardless.
Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith will lean on his seniors — Grant Haley and Christian Campbell — to take the majority of the snaps. Both have loads of experience and should form one of the top starting duos in the Big Ten, but in today’s pass-happy landscape, you need a trusted rotation to ensure everyone stays fresh.
Amani Oruwariye, a redshirt junior out of Tampa, stands to benefit the most from the extra playing time that’s up for grabs. His pick-six in the season opener against Kent State highlighted his excellent closing speed and 2017 could be the year it finally all comes together for Oruwariye.
Two newcomers are also be in prime position for big-time roles on Brent Pry’s defense: touted freshman Lamont Wade and stud walk-on Jabari Butler. Wade should still be in high school, but was able to graduate from Western Pennsylvania powerhouse Clairton early and has gone through spring ball with the Nittany Lions. Butler transferred to Penn State from FCS Abilene Christian this offseason and immediately turned heads with a 40-yard dash in the 4.3s.
Senior safety Marcus Allen is impressed by how quickly Wade’s developed in his few short weeks with the program. “Lamont is very explosive. He has that knack for getting to the ball and everything,” Allen said. “He’s gonna be a really good football player.”
Allen has made it a point to help guide Wade along as he adjusts to the college game, just like Ryan Keiser, Adrian Amos, Jordan Lucas, and Trevor Williams did for him when he was making his first start against Ohio State in 2014.
“I know how he feels. The game is kinda fast when you first step out there, but when you have that big brother helping you and telling you, ‘You got it’ and what you did wrong on that play, it helps you a lot,” Allen said.
James Franklin noted how Wade, who plans to contribute from day one, hasn’t hit that freshman wall yet and continues to play at a high level as the playbook thickens.
“He’s a different kid because he’s already physically developed. It’s not like he’s 170 pounds — he’s 190,” Franklin said. “He’s got tremendous confidence, as we all saw in high school, but sometimes that kinda goes away when you get to college. That hasn’t gone away. He’s got a lot of competitive confidence…and he’s made plays so far.”
Following Reid’s injury, it would be a shock to not see Wade on the field this fall. He’s simply too talented to take a redshirt, plus his value in the return game can’t be overlooked. He was seen fielding punts during practice on Wednesday alongside Mark Allen and Josh McPhearson.
Redshirt freshman T.J. Johnson could eventually carve out a role for himself at corner, but special teams seems like the obvious first step for the Cleveland native. Same goes for classmate Zech McPhearson, Josh’s younger brother.
With Haley and Campbell entrenched as the starters moving forward, Penn State is well equipped to deal with Reid’s absence, even though it’s certainly not ideal.