Cool Hand Lucas
Penn State defensive coordinator and safeties coach Bob Shoop has some extremely versatile athletes in the secondary, and it is going to be fun to see how he unleashes them. The lynchpin to it all is new starting strong safety Jordan Lucas, who had previously been a starting cornerback.
Lucas’ ability to tackle (he was third on the team with 58 last year) and cover (he led the Lions with nine pass breakups) means he can really play anywhere other than the defensive line. There are rules about what the media can and cannot report from practice, but it is safe to say you can expect to see some very interesting twists with nickel and dime coverages this year thanks to guys like Lucas and fellow safety Marcus Allen.
Reid & React
Versatility is one reason true freshman defensive back John Reid has quickly worked his way up to second team on the depth chart. Though not the biggest DB (5-10, 186), he sure looks comfortable playing all over the place in the secondary.
But there is more to it than that. Remember those stories about Reid making recruiting visits to Penn State, only to spend most of the time with Shoop talking football and watching film. Well, clearly that intelligent approach to the game is allowing the kid to make an immediate impact. He is clearly no ordinary rookie.
Means To An End?
Looks like we have a mini-theme going here. Another versatile player on the Penn State defense is lineman Anthony Zettel. Zettel had played mostly end in his first two seasons of eligibility, until Shoop and company moved him inside to tackle last fall and he became a star. Zettel won first-team All-Big Ten honors and is on many preseason All-America teams for 2015.
Having a big bruiser like Austin Johnson in the middle of the line and a terrific athlete like Zettel alongside will also allow Shoop to have even more fun. We saw it in spots last year, where he changed from four- to three-man fronts at times. Getting Zettel in space as an end in a three-man front must be a frightening proposition for opponents.
As much deserved hype as Zettel and Johnson are getting, backup DTs Tarow Barney and Parker Cothren are being largely overlooked. But both guys are getting plenty of first team reps, mixing and matching in different combinations with the starters.
This is important to keep all of the tackles fresh.
As strong as that quartet is, it is imperative they all stay healthy. Redshirt freshman Antoine White is said to be less than 100 percent after dealing with an undisclosed foot injury in the offseason, and true freshman Robert Windsor is the only other scholarship DT in the program.
What a difference a year makes. Last fall, the coaching staff had so many concerns about the secondary that four true freshmen eventually saw time there (Allen, Christian Campbell, Grant Haley and Troy Apke). Allen started seven games, Campbell one. Haley saw significant action.
In sizing up the true freshman defenders this year, it looks like Reid is the only rookie who is certain to play. And he’ll be kind of a luxury for the secondary.
The way it looks, the staff may have to have Windsor ready to go, as well. Depending on how things go injury-wise at D-end, a decision could have to be made about a guy like Ryan Buchholz.