Nittany Notes: DB Report

Brian Norwood and Tom Bradley continue to focus on rebuilding the PSU secondary this spring. With impressive speed all around, the coaches are now assessing the types of defensive backs available and working to assemble the best combination of that talent. Get a closer look at how the secondary is coming together.

Though the staff is working a variety of combinations at the four secondary positions, the current secondary depth chart looks like this:

CB: Justin King, Knowledge Timmons, Willie Harriott
S: Donnie Johnson, Spencer Ridenhour, Mark Rubin
S: Nolan McCready, Anthony Scirrotto, Darien Hardy
CB: Tony Davis, Devin Fentress, Lydell Sargeant

According to one practice observer, "Everyone [in the secondary] is looking really good right about now, but it's going to be a challenge to build out the depth chart because each player brings a unique style of play to the game."

Types of Backs

The defensive backs fall into different groups based on their abilties and overall style of play on the field. Here is how several observers we spoke with explained the breakdown of the various styles of play the secondary is seeing:

Finesse Backs: As one observer explained, "These defensive backs are described as fast guys who use their fundamentals and technique to focus on pass breakups and interceptions." Another observer said, "The key to their success is creating separation between the receiver and his route and making reads on the ball."

Among the players who observers feel fall into this group are:

Justin King
Willie Harriott
Devin Fentress

Collision Backs: "These backs are fast, hard-hitting and have a very aggressive style of play — I like to call them collision backs or defenders." Observers feel that the edge for this type of back is "mental" thanks to "the intimidation they use — they make the receiver know that they may catch the ball, but they are going to pay once they pull it in," according to another observer.

Among the players who observers feel fall into this group are:

Knowledge Timmons
Anthony Scirrotto
Spencer Ridenhour
Darien Hardy

Power Backs: These backs are "a hybrid of the two." While fast, they play physical, but are not as aggressive as the collision backs tend to be. "These players play tough, but disciplined."

Among the players who observers feel fall into this group are:

Tony Davis
Donnie Johnson
Lydell Sargeant

Though the consensus among observers was clear in regard to who fell into which grouping, not every player was as clearly defined.

Nolan McCready: McCready is described as "physical" and a "back that reacts more than he anticipates." While not considered a collision back, some observers feel he is more of a power back, while others feel he is more of a finesse back.

"He's somewhere in the middle," one observer shared. "He's not the speed demon it takes to be a true finesse guy. He's physical, but he's also not a skull-smacking type player."

A core strength of McCready's is his ability read and call out formations.

Mark Rubin: "Rubin can lay a hit on a guy, but he is not overly aggressive. He is also not the quickest guy out there — he's tough to characterize. That's probably why most call him a wideout (laughing)," an observer said.

Building the Unit

The coaches continue to rotate the players to see which combination works the best overall. Observers feel the staff likes to have a mix of the different types of players in a formation given the abilties the unit has displayed in "playing to each other's strengths."

If you look at the current starting lineup the breakdown is:

CB: Justin King (finesse)
S: Donnie Johnson (power)
S: Nolan McCready (hybrid/communicator)
CB: Tony Davis (power)

However, the coaches can shift the makeup of the unit with one or two substitutions; adding Timmons or Scirrotto lends more physical play, while adding Harriott or Fentress lends more technique to the lineup.

According to one observer, "There are a lot of interchangable parts here. You have a lot of fast, good players, who, with a little experience, have the ability to create a defensive backfield that can matchup with most types of offenses. The key is getting these guys confidence with experience."

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