Countdown To Blue-White: Replacing Malik Golden
Evaluating the candidates for Malik Golden’s vacant strong safety spot is one of the top priorities for Penn State this spring.
Marcus Allen, who elected to forgo the NFL Draft and return for his senior season, is already locked in as the starting free safety. During last week’s media session, he highlighted both Ayron Monroe and special teams captain Nick Scott as players who have taken their games to a new level.
“Nick is just doing his thing right now,” Allen said. “He’s always in there getting extra work. He’s an athlete, he can run, he can jump out the gym. He’s very elusive as far as when he has the ball in his hands.”
James Franklin was just as bullish on Scott’s stock at midway through spring ball, saying he’s had “as good of an offseason as anybody on our team.”
Allen mentioned that Monroe, a redshirt sophomore out of Largo, Md., has really improved his attention to detail in the film room. Now that the off-the-field aspects of the game are coming together for Monroe, it’s going to be exciting to see what he accomplishes this fall.
“As far as his athleticism, it’s crazy. He’s a freak,” Allen said.
Monroe led the team in special teams tackles last year with 12 and is playing a lot faster entering his third year in the program. “He’s so much more mature, he’s so much more confident in how we do things,” Franklin added.
Allen took the rest of the safeties under his wing, making sure they’re dialing in their footwork and strengthening their ball skills on the jugs machine after practice and even on their days off. Creating turnovers is also a major emphasis for the defense as a whole, but it’s especially crucial for the secondary, which struggled to find a true playmaker in the passing game last season.
Allen, Saquon Barkley, DaeSean Hamilton, and Mark Allen trained down in Orlando over spring break, where they ran into Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. The Mississippi State product, who tied Ben Roethlisberger’s record as the winningest rookie signal caller in NFL history with 13 victories in 2016, imparted some wisdom on the group. Allen said Prescott stressed to him the importance of reading a quarterback’s drop-back steps when determining whether to crash the line of scrimmage or fall into coverage.
Assessing a safety’s aptitude while wearing shorts is one thing, but according to Franklin, there isn’t much the coaching staff will see this spring from a tackling standpoint. NCAA practice restrictions and wanting to keep guys healthy heading into the summer are main reasons why the Nittany Lions won’t go hats-on-hats too often.
Of course, the Blue-White Game will provide a great opportunity for safeties coach Tim Banks and fans alike to gain a clearer picture of the competition.
On top of Scott and Monroe, senior Troy Apke is every bit involved in the battle for those coveted starting reps and has the most experience of anyone vying for the job. Young guns like John Petrishen and Garrett Taylor, who moved over from cornerback this offseason, are also in the mix after finally getting healthy. Both redshirt sophomores dealt with injuries during their first two years on campus, but were highly regarded recruits coming out of high school and could provide a nice change of pace.
Banks has said that there isn’t a huge difference between what he asks his strong and free safeties to do in Brent Pry’s defense, and that plenty of the skills for patrolling the field and boundary spots are interchangeable.
At this point, it’s pretty unclear who will emerge as the starter opposite Allen, with chances high that this competition will stretch into August.