Penn State DBs Look To Turn Up The Turnovers

To field an elite defense in 2017, the Nittany Lions must improve in the takeaway department. We let you know how the veterans in the secondary are working on that.

Even with S Malik Golden lost to graduation and CB John Reid on the shelf due to a serious knee injury, Penn State will field a deep and experienced secondary next fall.

Seniors Marcus Allen (S) and Grant Haley (CB) are both multiple-year starters. Two other seniors — S Troy Apke and CB Christian Campbell — have been mainstays in the defensive backfield since they were rookies. Same goes for CB Amani Oruwariye, a redshirt junior. http://www.scout.com/college/penn-state/story/1770430-penn-state-footbal...

That group alone has combined for nearly 500 career tackles and has been involved in many of the team’s biggest defensive plays the last few seasons. 

But a close examination of the numbers reveals that it has also come up extremely short in one key area. In fact, the secondary as a whole has struggled in that regard.

Simply put, PSU defensive backs have had trouble creating interceptions the past few years. So that has become a focal point for the secondary this spring.

“If we can increase our turnover ratio and do a better job with picks and things like that — and I’m not talking about making unbelievable catches; just catching the ones we’re supposed to — then it’s really gonna help us,” PSU coach James Franklin said. “Because you can take a good defense and become great or a great defense and become elite by just making that change. If we do nothing different but increase our turnovers (created) next year, it will have a dramatic impact on our defense.”

The five veterans listed above have combined for six career interceptions. Allen has none. Haley did not log a single pick in 2016. In fact, the only Lions with multiple interceptions last season were linebackers Brandon Bell and Brandon Smith, who both had two.

”As defensive players, we weren’t happy with the amount of turnovers we had last year,” Haley said. “So we’re trying to get that mindset if the ball is on the ground or in the air, become like the offensive player with the mindset to go up and get it.”

So how do defensive backs go about working on creating more turnovers? One of the keys, in Franklin’s estimation, is making sure they are comfortable catching the football. And that means training the way the actual pass-catchers do.

“The receivers (and) the tight ends spend so much time in the off-season on the Jugs Machine catching balls,” Franklin said. “Wherever I’ve been — not just Penn State — the defensive players haven’t approached it the same way. So we’ve talked a lot about, if we want to really improve in (creating) turnovers — which I think is an area we can really improve — we’ve got to invest in it. The more confident our defensive players are in catching the ball, the more willing they’ll be to go for the pick rather than the PBU.”

For the uninitiated, a Jugs Machine is one of those contraptions that uses a small spinning tire to fire footballs. Receivers use them in close-proximity drills to improve their hands. The DBs have joined in this spring, working with the machine following Tuesday lifting sessions or even after practice.

“We definitely feel like we missed opportunities (last season),” Haley said. “We feel we have to take more chances, too, to get those opportunities. So just having the ability and the confidence in your hands and your techniques to make those plays and take those risks, that’s what we’re trying to work on this spring to get better.”

Talking Turnovers

Penn State finished with a plus-1 turnover margin last season, with 21 takeaways (11 fumbles, 10 interceptions) and 20 giveaways (12 fumbles, eight interceptions).

While that was not necessarily bad, well, it was not good, either. The Lions ranked eighth in the Big Ten in turnover margin and were way behind the other top teams in the conference.

Ohio State, for example, led the league at plus-15 and had 21 interceptions. Wisconsin was second at plus-12 and had 22 picks. Michigan was plus-8.

Of course, Penn State won the Big Ten championship, beating the Buckeyes and Badgers along the way.

But you can only wonder how much more dominant the Nittany Lions would have been had their turnover margin been in the same area as the other league powers.


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Even with S Malik Golden lost to graduation and CB John Reid on the shelf due to a serious knee injury, Penn State will field a deep and experienced secondary next fall.

Seniors Marcus Allen (S) and Grant Haley (CB) are both multiple-year starters. Two other seniors — S Troy Apke and CB Christian Campbell — have been mainstays in the defensive backfield since they were rookies. Same goes for CB Amani Oruwariye, a redshirt junior. http://www.scout.com/college/penn-state/story/1770430-penn-state-footbal...

That group alone has combined for nearly 500 career tackles and has been involved in many of the team’s biggest defensive plays the last few seasons.

But a close examination of the numbers reveals that it has also come up extremely short in one key area. In fact, the secondary as a whole has struggled in that regard.

Simply put, PSU defensive backs have had trouble creating interceptions the past few years. So that has become a focal point for the secondary this spring.

“If we can increase our turnover ratio and do a better job with picks and things like that — and I’m not talking about making unbelievable catches; just catching the ones we’re supposed to — then it’s really gonna help us,” PSU coach James Franklin said. “Because you can take a good defense and become great or a great defense and become elite by just making that change. If we do nothing different but increase our turnovers (created) next year, it will have a dramatic impact on our defense.”

The five veterans listed above have combined for six career interceptions. Allen has none. Haley did not log a single pick in 2016. In fact, the only Lions with multiple interceptions last season were linebackers Brandon Bell and Brandon Smith, who both had two.

”As defensive players, we weren’t happy with the amount of turnovers we had last year,” Haley said. “So we’re trying to get that mindset if the ball is on the ground or in the air, become like the offensive player with the mindset to go up and get it.”

So how do defensive backs go about working on creating more turnovers? One of the keys, in Franklin’s estimation, is making sure they are comfortable catching the football. And that means training the way the actual pass-catchers do.

“The receivers (and) the tight ends spend so much time in the off-season on the Jugs Machine catching balls,” Franklin said. “Wherever I’ve been — not just Penn State — the defensive players haven’t approached it the same way. So we’ve talked a lot about, if we want to really improve in (creating) turnovers — which I think is an area we can really improve — we’ve got to invest in it. The more confident our defensive players are in catching the ball, the more willing they’ll be to go for the pick rather than the PBU.”

For the uninitiated, a Jugs Machine is one of those contraptions that uses a small spinning tire to fire footballs. Receivers use them in close-proximity drills to improve their hands. The DBs have joined in this spring, working with the machine following Tuesday lifting sessions or even after practice.

“We definitely feel like we missed opportunities (last season),” Haley said. “We feel we have to take more chances, too, to get those opportunities. So just having the ability and the confidence in your hands and your techniques to make those plays and take those risks, that’s what we’re trying to work on this spring to get better.”

Talking Turnovers

Penn State finished with a plus-1 turnover margin last season, with 21 takeaways (11 fumbles, 10 interceptions) and 20 giveaways (12 fumbles, eight interceptions).

While that was not necessarily bad, well, it was not good, either. The Lions ranked eighth in the Big Ten in turnover margin and were way behind the other top teams in the conference.

Ohio State, for example, led the league at plus-15 and had 21 interceptions. Wisconsin was second at plus-12 and had 22 picks. Michigan was plus-8.

Of course, Penn State won the Big Ten championship, beating the Buckeyes and Badgers along the way.

But you can only wonder how much more dominant the Nittany Lions would have been had their turnover margin been in the same area as the other league powers.

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