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Former Receiver Terry Smith Breeds A Strong Secondary From A Talented Offense

The best defenses come from practicing against great offenses.

Penn State’s defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith would know. A former standout receiver at Penn State from 1987-91, Smith has served in a variety of coaching roles on the offensive side of the ball. After stints as the offensive coordinator and head coach at his alma mater, Gateway High School, and wide receivers coach at Temple in 2013, Smith returned to State College in 2014 to try his hand at coaching those who had always lined up against him.

“When you’re a coach, the most important thing is you got to be a good communicator, you got to be a good teacher, you got to be able to get your guys to be able to play for you, to sacrifice for you,” he said following Wednesday’s training camp. Smith insinuated that it didn’t really matter if he was coaching offensively or defensively skilled players, he just had to be able to connect with them.

“So for me this year I think the easier thing was having a year under my belt with the system,” he said. “But at the end being a good teacher is what’s most important. Having these guys motivated and ready to go come Saturday afternoon.”

Smith chalked up a lot of his secondary’s preseason success to the strength of the offense it faces, both from the receivers and the quarterbacks.

“We’re playing the best quarterback in the nation everyday in practice,” Smith said with high regard for Christian Hackenberg. “I keep telling our DBs he has the strongest arm that we’ll face all year, so we’re seeing the best of what a QB can present to us. We just have to stay patient. Sometimes he makes throws that you just have to regroup the next play because the throw was so good.”

But it’s not just Hackenberg. Smith praised sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley for being a more mobile alternative, and a better preparation for potential dual-threat passers that the Nittany Lions will face this season.

At the cornerback position, Smith labeled the race for the second starting spot — that behind Trevor Williams — as “very competitive.” Likely, Smith said, it will be a continuing rotation of up to five younger players throughout the year. It’s a list that includes returning talent Christian Campbell and Grant Haley, but also features hyped freshmen John Reid, Garrett Taylor, and Amani Oruwariye.

“John Reid is having an exceptional camp, he’s a really smart kid and a really driven kid,” Smith said. “[Taylor] is competing just as hard, talent wise as well, they’re both having a really good camp.”

The secondary, meanwhile, has been one of Smith’s biggest strengths. He’ll enter the season with high confidence in his coaching ability, as earlier this week, former Penn State safety and current Chicago Bears rookie Adrian Amos claimed a starting spot. This season, the defensive backfield will be primarily patrolled by Marcus Allen and Jordan Lucas, with help from Malik Golden. But it’s not just Smith who feels much more comfortable from year one to year two. He sees it in his players as well.

Smith said his team is competing at a higher level than ever before. He’s more excited with this training camp than he was with the 2014 team, which allowed the second-fewest yards in college football, coupled with the 11th-fewest passing yards and grabbing the 15th-most interceptions, so offensive coordinators around the country should be wary.

“We’re lights years better than where we were last year.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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