Penn State No Longer Flipping Out At Cornerback

For all of the talk of a new-look offense, the Nittany Lion defense is also pushing a few boundaries heading into the 2016 season.

There has be plenty of focus on Penn State’s new no-huddle offense heading into the 2016 season. But over on defense, a subtle change has been made that stemmed from the Nittany Lions facing no-huddle offenses last season.

When it comes to cornerback play, PSU is pushing the boundaries, so to speak.

What gives?

Well, in James Franklin’s first two seasons at the helm of the program — when Bob Shoop was defensive coordinator — the Lions usually used what are referred to as “boundary” and “field” corners.

In other words, one cornerback — usually Trevor Williams — would handle the wide side of the field, regardless of which hash the opponent was operating from. The images below will give you a better feel for what we mean. 

In both, Williams (No. 10) is the field corner and Grant Haley (15) is the boundary corner.

In the first image, the offense is lined up on the right hash, so Williams is at the top of the frame (in the more open area of the field). Haley is closer to the boundary at the lower part of the frame.

Mark Brennan/FOS

In the second image, the offense is lined up on (or near) the left hash, so the wide side of the field is now the bottom of the frame (and Williams is there) while the boundary side is the top of the frame (Haley is there). They’ve flipped sides.

Mark Brennan/FOS

Why?

“There are certain calls and techniques that you play to the field, then there are certain calls and techniques that you play to the boundary,” PSU cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said. “We like to get those guys to master those.”

But things have changed under new defensive coordinator Brent Pry. Truth be told, they likely would have changed even if Shoop had stuck around.

A problem with using the boundary/field approach with the corners arose when the Lions faced no-huddle teams. Since the corners had little time to swap spots between plays, there were times when the field corner was caught playing the boundary and vice-versa. They were out of their comfort zone.

“When you play tempo offenses like ours, you can’t switch the side of the field,” Smith explained, “So those guys have to learn both boundary and field corner (now) because you don’t have time to flip sides. … Now they’ve got to master both. It just makes them more complete, anyway.”

Williams is gone now. The projected starters are Haley and John Reid. Christian Campbell is expected to get a lot of reps at corner, too. All three are now working on both sides in boundary and corner situations.

The bottom line is, wherever they happen to line up at the start of a series, they should each be comfortable remaining on that side of the field even if the offense goes no-huddle.

Smith said the fact that the corners are practicing against new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s hurry-up attack in practice every day has been “huge” for them.

“Because when we get into those up-tempo games, it won’t phase us,” Smith said. “We’ve seen it every day. We’re prepared for it. … We know how to substitute within the rules — when we can and when we can’t, because they may go super fast. So it’ll help us.”


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