Which is exactly what we're doing in this new series, where we look ahead to 2009 to see how Joe Paterno and his staff will deal with key personnel losses.
We've already looked at the key offensive line and quarterback positions. Now it's time to turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball, to tackle the cornerback spots.
Current Starters: Second-team and honorable mention All-Big Ten selections respectfully this season, Lydell Sargeant and Tony Davis are two veterans of the secondary who will be missed.
A valuable leader, Davis shifted back to corner after spending the bulk of 2007 at safety.
Seeing action in 12 games and starting in 11 of those contests, Sargeant led the team during the regular season in interceptions with four and pulled down 26 tackles. Davis grabbed 38 tackles and had one interception while starting in all 12 games at corner.
"Lydell and Tony both had a ton of experience and really worked with the younger guys," one observer explained. "I wouldn't say they are the best pure corners PSU has had, but they were consistent and stepped up when they were needed. That fumble scooped up for a touchdown in the Outback [Bowl by Davis] and Lydell's interception in this years win [over Ohio State] will always be remembered by this program."
Corner Candidates: Penn State has promising defensive backs who will be vying for the starting jobs this off-season.
A.J. Wallace (6-foot-1, 190 pounds): While not a fresh face to the secondary by any stretch, the junior Wallace had a challenging season in 2008. First, he suffered a broken jaw in spring practice when his helmet was knocked askew in a collision, jamming his facemask into his chin. Then he developed hamstring problems in the preseason, which nagged him through the season. Finally, he got sick in September when, after returning to his apartment famished, he slurped down a bowl of day-old soup. Despite these issues, Wallace saw action in all 12 games, grabbing 17 tackles (14 solo). "He's a fast, furious player. If he can focus and stay healthy, he'll make a big impact [in 2009]," one observer said.
Generally speaking, observers believe Wallace can be an outstanding starting corner if he can learn to play his way through bumps and bruises.
D'Anton Lynn (6-1, 195 pounds): The true freshman got an early taste of action as a gunner on special teams kick coverage during the regular season and was praised for his speed and athleticism. "He's really put together and has impressive control of his speed," as one observer put it. Lynn saw action in the final nine games. He's focused on improving his back-peddle technique and read-react skills, but "caught up to the speed of the game quickly, which is usually the toughest part of the freshmen."
The son of an NFL assistant coach, Lynn ability to learn quickly has not surprised anyone at Penn State.
Knowledge Timmons (5-10, 185 pounds): Timmons saw significant special teams play this season as a gunner on kick coverage and blocker on returns. He had some shining moments (like running down Temple's Travis Shelton on a big kickoff return) and a few to near disasters (like nearly running into the ball on a punt return against Illinois). Although he has seen most of his action at safety and nickle this season, Timmons is seeing some cornerback work during the bowl practices and is expected to move to the position in the spring.
Shelton McCullough (6-0, 180 pounds): A walk-on, McCoullough has seen primarily scout team reps at corner this season. Currently he is playing the role of USC corner Cary Harris on the foreign squad. McCoullough is said to have a good physical style of play and is focused on nailing down the playbook and his reaction skills.
The Fresh Faces: PSU's Class of 2009 already has a stable of impressive corner prospects who have committed. Among them are Stephon Morris, Curtis Drake, Derrick Thomas and Darrell Givens. Although all four will get an early look once they arrive on campus, expect at least three of the four to redshirt. Also, Thomas may start his PSU career as a wideout.
The (Early) Verdict: Wallace has all but locked up one of the starting corner jobs, barring another bout of bad luck on the injury front (keep that chin strap fastened). On the other side, we expect a battle between the veteran Timmons and the youngster Lynn, and think youth will ultimately be served in this one.
See our other exclusive Position Preview Reports: