Nittany Notes: Defensive Adjustments

With Sean Lee out with an ACL tear, Penn State's defensive staff have been working to take advantage of the final week of spring drills to make appropriate adjustments on defense.

"The loss of Sean Lee is huge, there is no way around it, " one observer reported. "Everyone knows of his abilities on the field, but what he brings off the field is perhaps even more valuable — he's intense, driven, focused and passionate. Other players look to him. The bad news is that he's not able to take command on the field. The good news is that he is now able to work with the team in a pseudo-coaching role."

Sean Lee

With Lee sidelined, Bani Gbadyu has stepped into his starting role at outside linebacker and has started to receive guidance from Lee. "Sean always works with the younger guys," one observer explained. "But now he will focus on helping to fill his void by elevating Bani's game."

The two have focused on coverage skills. "Bani is pretty solid on run-stopping technique, although they are now looking to work on refining his take-down fundamentals," an observer said. "What he is really focused on is coverage — reading a player's tendencies before the snap. They have been talking about watching various aspects of an offense like the [running] back's feet and eyes." Observers point to Evan Royster's play being a good test for Bani. "[The offense] has been running at him and [Evan] doesn't telegraph a lot."

Evan Royster

Coaches Tom Bradley, Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden have been stressing communication and call-outs as plays develop. "Sean has sharp instincts and would take that and communicate what he saw continually," according to one observer. "What's key is continually getting everyone to call out what they are seeing to better prepare the unit. It's as simple as 'look run, look run' or 'look pass, look pass' as they recognize even the basic type of play. [The coaches] are constantly stressing that the players have to talk to each other."

The defense is also working on transitions. "If you're in a zone [scheme], the area where most opportunities for the [offense] open up are with transitions," another observer said. "Transitions are where ... say the 'backer is responsible for eight yards out [from the line of scrimmage]. That 'backer needs to basically release the assignment to the safety, who is responsible for the next zone. You have to communicate, but you also have to have consistent secondary play from your safeties who are aware of what they need to do to pick up the release."

Anthony Scirrotto

Observers feel that the coaches will likely look to safety Anthony Scirrotto to back up Gbadyu in situations like these given Scirrotto's experience and "instincts in the flat."

Many FOS members have asked about Michael Mauti's shift to safety from middle linebacker. "Mike's quick and is really put together well. Most importantly he's pretty consistent on reads and he's done well on his pursuit angles," one observer said.

However, observers stress that safety is a significantly different role than linebacker. "There are similarities, but you've really got to have endurance with your speed [at safety]," another observer said. "The reads are fundamentally similar, but you're working in a lot more open space at the safety, so the reactions are much more vital given the [space] that can develop between you and a ball carrier if he breaks loose into the flat."

"Will [Mauti] be there forever? I seriously doubt it, but they have an influx of talent [at linebacker] and are trying to spread it wider across the defense. He shifted over before Sean [Lee] went down," one observer explained. "It was mostly to see how they could get more out of the sick depth they have at linebacker and to possibly deepen the secondary some. They are going to give [Mauti] a look at safety and see if he can possibly help out with the loss of Sean [Lee] some."

Michael Mauti

Mauti has seen primarily second-team reps behind Mark Rubin during his time at safety.

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