Penn State cornerbacks coach Terry Smith was a wideout during his playing days with the Nittany Lions. He was 5-foot-8, 155 pounds as a senior in 1991, yet still finished his career as the third-leading receiver in school history.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, Smith is the first to admit the DBs he was going against back in the day generally were not at all like the athletes he is coaching today.
“It was a different era of football,” Smith said. “Everybody on the field was smaller.”
The changes in the way Penn State defensive backs look now from just a few years ago is significant. But rewind the clock back to Smith’s era, and it is staggering.
When Smith was a senior in ’91, the team’s top six defensive backs averaged 5-foot-9, 179 pounds. Three members of the secondary — Leonard Humphries, Mark Graham and Tony Pittman — were listed at 5-9, 170 or smaller. The biggest DB was future longtime NFL safety @Darren Perry, who was listed at 5-10, 190.
These days, when you look at the DBs who are likely to be on the field in six-man dime packages, the smallest athlete is roughly the size Perry was back in the day -- Grant Haley is 5-9, 189. Haley is the only one of the top six shorter than 6-foot.
Thanks to big DBs like Marcus Allen (6-3, 210), Christian Campbell (6-2, 190) and Malik Golden (6-0, 205), the average height and weight of the top six is 6-1, 198. So in 25 years, the average PSU DB has gotten about three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier.
How would Smith have fared against DBs of that size? Well, in the 1991 opener, the Nittany Lions faced defending national champ Georgia Tech in the Kick Classic, and the Yellow Jackets featured a then (and now) freakishly huge safety in 6-2, 245-pound Ken Swilling.
The undersized Smith had five catches for 51 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Above, Smith talks more about the differences between the typical DBs in the early 1990s and now.