Penny (or Nickel) for Your Thoughts

Joe Paterno talked about it Saturday, saying, "We've got two situation packages. We've got what we call the nickel package and we have what we call the penny package." This has caused several fans to send and post questions on how the "penny package" works.

The base of the "penny" package is a 3-3-5 scheme, which has three down linemen (two defensive ends and one nose tackle), three linebackers and five defensive backs. The penny not only provides flexibility to the defense, but also allows for coverages to be easily disguised like blitzes, stunts, etc.

So far this season, Penn State has primarily used the penny package on third-down-and-long (five yards or greater) situations. Often, the defense will be in a nickel package on second down when they shift to the penny on third down. With this shift a defensive tackle is removed and replaced with a "penny back," typically Paul Cronin.

The staff likes Cronin at this position because he mirrors a linebacker/defensive back combo, with speed, read-react skills and solid tackling ability. This scheme was a significant factor in giving Cronin linebacker reps this spring, to give him a better understanding of the role the backers play on the field.

Let's take a closer look at what happens when the defense shifts to the penny. The defensive line is Tamba Hali (DE), Scott Paxson (NT) and Matthew Rice (DE). The linebackers are Tim Shaw (OLB), Tyrell Sales (MLB) and Paul Posluszny (OLB). And the defensive backs are Alan Zemaitis (C), Chris Harrell (FS), Paul Cronin (PB), Calvin Lowry (SS) and Anwar Phillips (C).

So the penny scheme would look like:

    PB  LB    LB    LB  SS         
C                            C
        DE    DT    DE

Typically the penny back will pick up a slot receiver in coverage.

In the second half against Central Michigan, the defensive staff switched up the personnel, with Justin King at the corner spot, filling in for Anwar Phillips, who shifted to the penny back spot.

Although the scheme was used extensively against the Chippewas, Penn State has incorporated the penny scheme over the past few seasons.

With a solid set of linebackers, speed and experience in the secondary, a consistent nose tackle in Paxson, and an ideal penny back in Cronin, the staff has the personnel to run the scheme effectively against opposing offenses.

The primary difference between the penny and nickel? In the nickel, PSU still goes with four down linemen. Cronin, meanwhile, replaces Sales, the inside linebacker, giving the defense a 4-2-5 look.


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