Willis Sizes Up Secondary

The veteran safety talks about the early enrollees and more in our story and video features. Read and see what he has to say right here.

Willis talks new safeties coach Anthony Midget, the young DBs who are standing out, leadership, DBs scoring TDs, the QBs, "Tight End U" and more.

The arrival of Jordan Smith and Anthony Smith at Penn State in January was seen as not just a benefit, but also a necessity.

Adding immediate depth to a secondary unit that needed it was seen as a real plus for the Nittany Lions. Jordan Smith, of H.D. Woodson High (Washington, D.C.), and Anthony Smith, of Valley Forge Military Academy (Wayne, Pa.), provided it.

Yet the learning curve from high school and prep school schemes to defensive coordinator John Butler's multiple aggressive one is no doubt a jump, and a time consuming one at that. But the Smiths, both of whom are playing cornerback, are still catching on quickly according to one of the secondary's leaders.

“They're doing really well,” returning starting safety Malcolm Willis said Wednesday. “They're catching onto the playbook, and starting to make the transition from high school into college, and things like that.

“It's not a easy thing -- that's probably the hardest thing you'll do besides going to the next level,” Willis added. “Coming from high school into college is really hard.”

At 5-foot-11, 178 pounds, Jordan Smith has plenty of room to improve physically while in his first year in Craig Fitzgerald's strength and conditioning program. Anthony Smith is a bit bigger at 6-foot, 184, but no doubt must get stronger, too.

More important is the ability to latch on to the mental aspect of college ball, something Willis said they are both doing.

“They're trying to make sure they aren't making too many mistakes,” Willis said. “But like I tell them every day in practice, don't worry about making mistakes, because everybody gets beat. Defensive back is probably the most dangerous position on the field.”

The Smiths weren't the only players highlighted by Willis Wednesday, though. In fact, with four spring practices in the book (and five after Wednesday's session), the safety said he has taken note of another youthful face in his position group.

Jordan Lucas played in all 12 games a year ago, mostly on special teams. Willis expected the 6-0, 185-pound sophomore to earn more time this fall.

“He's really made the most strides so far, and it's showing in his play,” Willis said. “He's really been in the film room studying a lot, and his technique has gotten a lot better. He's becoming a good player.”

Willis is one of three returning starters in the Penn State secondary. The others are corner Adrian Amos and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. All were first-year starters themselves a year ago, but are now able to pass on lessons learned in 2012 to the less experienced DBs.

“Myself, Stephen Obeng and Adrian Amos, we talk to all the guys,” Willis said. “Even the second- and third-year guys, we talk to them. If they have questions, I know the whole defense, and every position on the defense. So if they have questions about why you need to do this, or why you need to be here, my door is always open, and my number is always up and running.

“All they have to do is ask,” he added. “We'll come in and watch film, and I'll break it down for them. It's my responsibility as a veteran on this defense to help the young guys learn the positions, so when I'm gone, it won't be any different.”

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