Lion DB King Goes on the Defensive

Justin King has gone on the defensive this spring. The true sophomore, who arrived in Happy Valley amid much hype for his ability to excel on both sides of the ball, has settled in at right cornerback, where he is expected to anchor the Nittany Lions' rebuilt secondary.

“I've been 100 percent defense this spring,” King said. “It's been fun.”

Not that his first year in the program wasn't enjoyable, too.

As a true freshman at Penn State, King was a true multi-purpose threat, making 10 catches for 126 yards, carrying 18 times for 237 yards, returning three kickoffs for 40 yards and making 11 tackles.

He played offense exclusively after fellow rookie Derrick Williams broke his arm in the Michigan game. But after the season, with all four starting defensive backs being lost to graduation, King and the coaching staff decided it would be best for him to focus on playing corner in the spring.

“When you don't play defensive back for a while, you start to second-guess some of the things you do,” King said. “It's a feel thing; you have to get that feel for it. … I'm getting that back now.”

The new-look secondary figures to feature King and redshirt sophomore Tony Davis at the corner spots, Donnie Johnson at strong safety and one of three players — Nolan McCready, Anthony Scirrotto or Mark Rubin — at free safety. Though still an underclassman, King is considered a leader of the group.

“When I was in there with [the departed seniors last year], I was the young pup,” King said. “Now I have to be into it, knowing the formations and checks. People are looking to me to make the call. That's a little different.”

Athletic ability has never been an issue for King, who in the off-season was timed in a team-best 4.31 seconds in the 40. Harnessing that speed, especially on defense, was another matter. After enrolling at PSU in January of 2005, going through one spring practice, a full season and now another spring, he has a much better handle on the game.

“I'm playing faster,” King said. “Everything is second-nature, I don't have to think about it.”

Besides being one of the better athletes in the program, King is also one of the most soft-spoken Nittany Lions. Except when it comes to matters of speed. He has a good-natured debate going with former prep sprint star and current PSU DB Knowledge Timmons over who is faster. Timmons excels in the 100 meters and runs track at Penn State.

“In the 40-yard dash, Knowledge won't beat me,” King said. “Ever.”

He is equally confident in Penn State's team speed.

“We're extremely fast, especially on defense and at receiver,” King said. “There is a lot of speed out there, put it that way. Everyone I go against is fast.”

Because the secondary goes against burners like Deon Butler and Williams every day, King believes it will be capable of handling anything opponents throw at it next season. If he has any indication that fans are pointing to the defensive backfield as a potential trouble spot, he is not letting on.

“We all know what we can do,” King said. “We really don't care what people think about how good or bad we'll be. I feel very confident in the secondary; I know they feel the same way. We can play with anybody.”

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