Harrington: Donnie Johnson's graduation leaves a hole at free safety. Johnson took some time over the course of his career to end up at the position, but he proved to be a true asset for the secondary with 50 tackles (36 solo) in 2006. This, coupled with the unique nature of the position, will make replacing him somewhat of a challenge. Tom Bradley likes to have size, speed and attitude at the position, so that could make the likely candidates Tony Davis, A.J. Wallace, Knowledge Timmons or Spencer Ridenhour.
Brennan: It has to be Johnson by default here, since he is the only starter leaving. While I have all the respect in the world for the dedication he showed to the program while waiting his turn to become a starter as a senior, I actually think he was the weak link in the secondary. As such, and considering the capable athletes you mentioned, I don't see this being a difficult hole to fill. The Lions also lose nickel back Nolan McCready. McCready was an intelligent player capable of adjusting to different situations on the fly, which is important for a nickel. I'm anxious to see who fills that role in 2007
Harrington: The brightest spot in the defensive backfield is the flat out speed the unit has. With Justin King, A.J. Wallace, Knowledge Timmons, Tony Davis, Anthony Scirrotto, Devin Fentress, Lydell Sargeant and Willie Harriott, you have a myriad of sub 4.5/40 speedsters. This means the two-deep decisions will be based on control, reads, angles and tackling. It's a good situation for the PSU defense to be in.
Brennan: OK, so there is some serious speed in the secondary. But the true bright spot is King. Ohio State's Ted Ginn projects as a top-10 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, and Tennessee's Robert Meachem is expected to be a first-rounder. They combined for six catches for 48 yards against the Lions (with a long of 12 yards), thanks in large part to King's strong man coverage. Though he'll only be a junior in 2007, I would not be surprised if this is King's final year as a Lion. After all, if he is good enough to shut down first-round draft picks, it stands to reason that he is good enough to be a first-round pick himself.
Harrington: I'm keeping an eye on Nick Sukay as a possible impact player out of the gate. Penn State has been very good at identifying the right players to enroll early to help them get a jump on their careers. Sukay's speed and aggression have him earmarked as a player to watch this off-season. Also, given that he has better management over his speed and a more disciplined approach to his play, I expect Knowledge Timmons to make an impact on the two-deep somewhere in the secondary this year. With his speed and strength I think he will break into the rotation at corner or safety and turn some heads this spring.
Brennan: Perhaps I'm taking liberties with the "unexpected" aspect of this section, but I see A.J. Wallace emerging as a big-time defensive back. I would not be surprised to see him take over the corner spot opposite King, with Davis moving to free safety or nickel. Wherever he plays, Wallace has the size and speed to make a significant impact. I'm also anxious to see where Devin Fentress fits after returning from a redshirt and whether that prompts the staff to move anyone from corner to safety (perhaps Davis or Timmons).
It's Now or Never
Harrington: With the amount of talent in the secondary, I really see this season as a pivotal point for Lydell Sargeant. He has a tremendous amount of speed, but is caught in a lineup that simply does not suit his abilities. He needs to break out or find a new position in order to jumpstart his ability to contribute.
Brennan: I believe Spencer Ridenhour is in the same boat. He'll be a redshirt junior next season and has yet to make a significant impact in the program. It is amazing how quickly time passes for some of these players. After missing the Outback Bowl for disciplinary reasons, I expect Ridenhour will feel he has something to prove this spring.
Stay tuned to Fight On State as Brennan and Harrington continue to take closeup looks at each PSU unit as the team prepares for srping practice. Also, catch other unit editions of Take Your Marks: