Nick Sukay, SS (6-foot-1, 208 pounds)
With the departure of veteran Mark Rubin, the strong safety position is open with a few candidates vying for the starting role. "Rubin was brilliant at times with his run stopping skills — he was hard-nosed and wasn't afraid to step in a lane and level a ball carrier. He was inconsistent with his coverage, so the coaches ideally would like to have greater consistency there," an observer explained.
Throughout the off-season the coaches have seen a "healthy" and "spirited contest" between redshirt sophomores Nick Sukay and Andrew Dailey with "pros and cons on both sides."
Sukay in particular has drawn favorable comments from the spring through preseason sessions. Slowed by a foot injury the past two seasons, observers have also voiced concern related to his durability.
Early in the spring Sukay shifted to cornerback, but quickly transitioned back to safety. According to one observer, "Sukay has made some nice plays and and can take and give hits. There's still worry about if he can stay healthy. A lot of folks (around the program) are holding their breadth, so we'll see — that's probably the biggest concern (with Sukay) right now."
The redshirt sophomore has yet to log a snap in his Nittany Lion career, but is now battling for playing time in an area where both starters were lost to graduation.
Speed: Described as "fluid" and "quick," Sukay is not nearly the fastest player in the secondary. However, observers feel he has the ability to "change direction and make adjustments quickly," something that Rubin struggled with.
Reads: What Sukay may lack in top-end speed he makes up for with his reaction time. "He's pretty consistent with his reads and is getting better with picking the right angles on a play." He's been working on "zone assignment pickups" and overall communication, but as one observer indicated, "His ability to read a play can still improve, but it's giving him an edge."
Technique: Sukay is said to have a fairly refined technique "with coverage and wrap-ups." Observers feel he has improved with his tackling technique and he continues to work on his "open-field play," and the communication with the other defensive backs — something the entire secondary is focused on.
Approach: Said to be aggressive and intense on the field, the staff has worked on "channeling" this for his game. "He's physical and aggressive, which sometimes had him over-pursing a play early on. He wanted so badly to make the play he wouldn't always consider the shifts a runner could make to make him miss. He's gotten better and smarter with this. So we'll see how it goes."
Impact: With a major void to fill at strong safety, Sukay appears to be the front-runner right now, a position he's held since spring practice wrapped up. With Dailey and Gerald Hodges in pursuit, observers like his head for the game and physical style of play. "He still has work to do understanding how to work and communicate effectively with the other [defensive] backs and [line]backers with help and transitions." The expectations are that Sukay may not be a impressive at run-stopping as his predecessor, but he should bring a better balance of stepping up to plug a hole and dropping back into coverage.
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