The most productive position change for the Penn State football program since the turn of the millennium occurred when Levi Brown moved from the defensive line to offensive tackle in the mid-2000s. Somewhere in either suburban Pittsburgh or his new office at CBS, Tom Bradley is smiling because the defense just got one back.
It’s hard to argue that success in a spring scrimmage will translate into the same during real game action, but Penn State’s Trevor Williams surely made a case in April. The redshirt sophomore’s athletic prowess and switch from wide receiver to one of the two starting cornerback spots have revamped the secondary for this 2013 defense.
The fact that Malcolm Willis failed to maintain his starting safety position is not a good sign; Ryan Keiser doesn’t exactly put fear in offensive coordinators. If either/both Willis and Keiser struggle, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong can be moved up during non-nickel situations. The bright spot at safety will be converted corner Adrian Amos, who is finally at the natural position that his size, speed and skill set warrants.
Opposing Williams at corner will be fellow sophomores Jordan Lucas and Da’Quan Davis. Lucas edged out Davis for the starting nod, but both are very capable and these three combine to form one of the most talented sets of cornerbacks in the Big Ten.
Ted Roof’s first and only season as the man in charge was solid if not strong after PSU finished second in the conference and in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense, though it’s not yet known what new coordinator John Butler will stamp as his own style. But, as usual in Happy Valley, the most talent sits at linebacker.
The starters for this edition of Linebacker U – Glenn Carson, Nyeem Wartman and Mike Hull – are up to par, but never has there been so much importance placed on and concern about depth. The slimness caused by the scholarship sanctions are most visible at the most beloved position. There’s simply no way to sugarcoat the fact that if any one of the above three suffers a serious injury, it would have a devastating effect on the defense.
Calm down for a minute with this coming-from-nowhere hype surrounding Gary Wooten. Although he has made strides, it’d be wise to remember that any prep linebacker “that” good from the Sunshine State has no prayer of escaping the three powers that exist therein. Athens? Sure. Baton Rouge? Definitely happens. The good news is that the best linebackers coach in the business is the one with the opportunity to make him better. And better he will get, but Wooten is not quite there yet.
Brandon Bell on the other hand seems to have opened the right eyes and will at least mitigate a bit of the drop in skill level should he be called upon to spell an injured Hull or Wartman on the outside. Ben Kline? If you believe Bill O’Brien on this one, go for it. This end is sticking with the current Moody’s rating of Baa.
Moving to Larry Johnson’s unit, one starting tackle spot has been wrapped up since last season ended, as behemoth DaQuan Jones will again be State’s primary run-stuffer and the combination of Kyle Baublitz and Austin Johnson will comprise the other. Johnson, who used his redshirt in 2012, is considered more talented than the redshirt junior with whom he’s competing. Baublitz was recruited as a hybrid linebacker/tight end, but has added roughly 40 pounds to his frame since entering the program as a member of the Class of 2010. Most who have followed the battle closely expect Johnson to be the outright starter in the near future.
In mid-October when the weather gets colder, opponents are tougher and injuries arise, help for this area could come from the trio of true freshmen. Sources close to the program have raved about Parker Cothren, Curtis Cothran (it’d be much easier to remember the slight difference in spelling if the one with the “a” was the one from Alabama, but no dice) and, of course, highly-touted New Jerseyan Garrett Sickels, all of whom have looked very strong in drills. Expect at least one of them to contribute significantly, but it is also likely that at least another will be redshirted for future depth chart/eligibility purposes.
It’ll be fun for PSU fans to watch the development of speedy end Deion Barnes. That slim frame is reminiscent of Aaron Maybin, although Maybin would claim that his upper body is much stronger. Either way, Barnes, who garnered the conference’s top freshman award and made every single freshman All-American team in existence, will continue to add strength/weight in the right places and has superstar written all over him.
C.J. Olaniyan needs to show significant improvement on the other end if he wants to steal any attention away from Barnes. At 6-foot-3 and not quite 250 pounds, State has had better starting ends – Butler and Johnson need to concoct a scheme so that Anthony Zettel can form a competent tandem with Olaniyan. Brad Bars’ season-ending injury certainly didn’t help.
It’d be an insult to Joe Paterno to review a Penn State defense without mentioning the punter. Senior Alex Butterworth returns at punter.
(Tumbleweeds.) (More tumbleweeds.)
Funny, all this time it’s been a wonder why more stories aren’t written about punters.