Twelve Days — Safety

Our 12 Days of Christmas breakdown of the Penn State football program continues with the play-callers of the secondary.


MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE: From 2000-02, safeties led the Penn State defense in tackles. In 2003, a linebacker was first in stops, a safety a close second.

But in 2004, the safeties took a step back in the tackle department, with senior Andrew Guman finishing a distant third behind linebackers Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor.

And that was a good thing from the Nittany Lions’ perspective. Because if safeties are required to make a lot of tackles, that typically means the people in front of them aren’t doing their jobs. And that, in turn, prevents the safeties from doing what they need to do in the secondary — namely, making plays.

But with the defensive linemen and linebackers both carrying their shares of the load in 2004, Guman and fellow starter Calvin Lowry went wild.

The former had 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, the most by a Lion DB since Askari Adams has seven in 1999, to go along seven passes defended. This while missing nearly three full games with a collapsed lung.

The latter had 50 tackles, tied for the team lead with four interceptions (which he returned 74 yards) and recovered a team-best four fumbles.

Backup Paul Cronin again proved to be a valuable commodity. The walk-on’s primary role was nickel back, and he even started a pair of games in that capacity. He got two more starts when Guman was injured. Cronin finished with 23 tackles and an interception.

All did well in pass coverage. All were strong in run support. As a result, Penn State ranked second in the Big Ten in pass defense and third in overall defense.

If there was a negative, it was that no one else got much meaningful playing time. Another walk-on, Nolan McCready, was used as a linebacker/safety hybrid late in the year but only made five stops. Lowry’s backup, Jim Kanuch, made two tackles while playing in just seven games.

WHO WAS NAUGHTY: Whoever voted for team captains and did not include Guman on the list. In fact, a strong case can be made that Guman should have been named senior MVP, ahead of quarterback Zack Mills. We love Mills, but he didn’t make many game-changing plays.

WHO WAS NICE: Though not a team captain, Guman was clearly the glue that held the vastly improved PSU defense together.

UNDER THE TREE: A blast from the past here, as Chris Harrell hopes to return from a neck injury which prompted him to redshirt in 2004. With 140 career tackles and 18 career starts under his belt, he will — if healthy — help make up for the loss of Guman.

There is good depth here, so the staff may wait to see how things play out at other positions in the spring before deciding which youngsters will fit in at safety. A case in point is redshirt freshman Spencer Ridenhour, who could land at safety or linebacker.

Incoming freshmen Anthony Scirrotto (corner) and Sean Lee (linebacker), as well as greyshirt Kevin Suhey (quarterback) and redshirt frosh Tony Davis (corner), are all in the same situation.

In the meantime, if January enrollee Justin King makes the splash at corner many expect, don’t be surprised if 2004 starter Anwar Phillips sees some time inside.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Developing a deeper rotation. The Lions were in so many tight games in 2004, the staff couldn’t afford to rest the starters very often.


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