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Versatility Bolstering Penn State Football’s Secondary

Penn State’s secondary has played a pivotal role in the team’s 5-0 start. The group is headlined by cornerbacks Kalen King and Johnny Dixon, who have both made big impacts this season and made the unit one of America’s best, if not the best.

“I think we’re playing good. Like always, we feel that we could have made more plays,” Dixon said Wednesday. “But for the most part, we’re doing our job. I feel like we got the best corners in the nation.”

Dixon has good evidence to support that claim, too. Penn State’s defense ranks first in college football with 682 passing yards allowed, which is good for 5.01 yards per attempt and 136.4 yards per game.

While King — a potential first-rounder — rightfully gets most of the attention, Dixon has also had his fair share of success on the field. He has eight total tackles, two pass breakups, and one interception. Although those numbers don’t pop off the screen, Dixon is useful because he’s a Swiss army knife for the Nittany Lions’ secondary.

“Wherever they need me to go play, I’m there,” Dixon said. “Whether it’s dime, nickel, corner, whatever it is. I feel like versatility is my strongest attribute.”

Dixon earned some praise from James Franklin this week, who lauded the Tampa native’s ability to successfully do multiple things on the field.

“I think Johnny is playing really good football… Johnny is a great blitzer, then also supporting the run, so I wanted to give him some love because it’s deserved,” Franklin said.

Franklin added that both Dixon and King aren’t traditional cornerbacks but rather players who are more capable of being reliable in other areas in addition to covering wide receivers. He stressed that this is helpful to Penn State, especially given the way the position has evolved.

“I think we have two corners, we have more than that, but two corners in Johnny and Kalen that are tough guys and that are physical at that position, which is less common now than it used to be,” Franklin said. “They do a really good job in a lot of different ways, not just defending the pass.”

This is part of what makes Penn State’s defense so dominant. Its players aren’t just regular cornerbacks who specialize in covering different receivers, but something more. They’re capable of leaving their marks all over the field, which creates headaches for opponents and gives Penn State’s coaching staff more to work with.

“It really opens up a lot of opportunities for what you want to do defensively,” Franklin said.

Franklin has every reason to state that the blue and white’s corners are the nation’s best, and it’s not just because of the statistics. They’re dominant in more ways than one on the field and that continues to show up given how many turnovers have been forced and how little passing yardage has been allowed. Per PFF, the Nittany Lions’ secondary has allowed the lowest passing rating in the nation.

“Our corners can cover and tackle. They’re physical and tough, which is not always the case,” Franklin reiterated.

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About the Author

Nolan Wick

Nolan is a third-year journalism major from Silver Spring, Maryland, which means he's an avid fan of all D.C. sports teams. If Nolan isn't writing about or watching sports, you can probably find him listening to all sorts of music or traveling. To keep up with Nolan, you can follow him on Twitter @nolan_wick or email him at [email protected].

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